With CAT’s “Children’s Hour” opening this past weekend, the spring slew of new shows begins. This seasonal onslaught is more gradual than the Jan/Feb deluge, maybe because some local companies aren't opening a new show until the end of April (Sycamore Rouge) or May (Firehouse) or even June (Richmond Shakespeare).
Though it is now old news, here are a few thoughts on “Next Fall,” which closed two weekends ago at Triangle Players. I’m glad I was able to sneak out to see this show before it closed if, for no other reason, to see Dawn Westbrook again, an accomplished actress who graces local stages way too infrequently. She inhabited the role of flawed matriarch Arlene perfectly, capturing that sort of blunt inappropriateness that can be charming when done well. Her portrayal set the tone for all the performances in the show, all of the actors getting all the character traits right and not pushing anything too far toward caricature. Barry Pruitt’s homophobic dad could just be loud and a bully, but he’s simply set in his ways. Denis Riva’s Luke could be overtly self-deluding or even self-loathing, but Riva made him a generally sunny individual dealing with a difficult core conflict.
The real discovery here is Chris O’Neill in his role of Adam. He is given the richest material to navigate and a character who weathers many ups and downs, and he really embraces the challenge with winning gusto. In smaller but pivotal roles, Georgia Rogers Farmer and Matt Mitchell both made their characters real people, not just “the Christian friend” or “the fag hag.”
Overall, I really liked this production because of those performances. The show also does a good job of introducing subjects of faith and sexual orientation; as Susan Haubenstock put it, it’s a “real conversation starter.” However, I do share the opinion of my colleague, Rich Griset, that there is a lot, perhaps too much, left unclear. Among the questions Griset mentioned were “How does devout Luke reconcile his evangelical Christian views with his homosexuality?” and “How does Luke’s father, Butch, deal with the realization that his son is gay?” As an audience member, I don’t necessarily need answers to these questions, but more insight into how the characters wrestled with them would have been appreciated.
Also, at this point, homosexuality-denying parents are a little boring to me as characters, even as expertly portrayed by Westbrook and Pruitt. I’m not saying that they aren’t still out there in force in the real world or that the issue of gay people telling their parents about their orientation isn’t still a very real issue. But I guess I’m hopeful that the tide has truly turned on some issues and when you have a loud and proud gay couple at the center of the country’s top rated sitcom (Modern Family), more interesting dramatic constructs now can be explored involving kids who come out at earlier and earlier ages, or ones that come out as gay and then ending up having heterosexual relationships later on.
What was interesting to me were the two devoutly Christian gay characters and the contrasts in the ways they maneuvered through their lives. One was seemingly sunny and well-adjusted, the other seemed a bit tightly wound and obviously conflicted. But both clearly struggled with reconciling their faith and their sexuality. I would have loved to see a little more of those struggles brought to the fore but, to the extent that “Next Fall” explores this otherwise under-represented realm, I think it is an admirable work.
One final word on the Daisey controversy I’ve been dwelling on: the storyteller posted the kind of comprehensive and unequivocal apology that people have been waiting for on his blog last night. While I’ll never quite understand why he didn’t do this weeks ago, it’s heartening to me to see him respond to the vehement and legitimate criticisms launched his way. Time to turn the page on that story…