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'Next Fall' is more than an odd couple

The company of <i>Next Fall</i>: Arlene (Maggie Bearmon Pistner), Butch (Stephen Yoakam), Brandon (Sasha Andreev), Holly (Andrea Leap), Luke (Neal Skoy) and Adam (Garry Geiken)

The company of Next Fall: Arlene (Maggie Bearmon Pistner), Butch (Stephen Yoakam), Brandon (Sasha Andreev), Holly (Andrea Leap), Luke (Neal Skoy) and Adam (Garry Geiken)

At first blush, the latest piece at the Jungle Theater seems a bit like a typical TV comedy: Two mismatched gay lovers--one an atheist, the other a fundamentalist Christian--try to forge a relationship in modern-day New York. But as the play unfolds deeper issues come to the surface about faith and the hereafter when one of the two, Luke, is critically injured in a car accident.

"We are introduced to stock types in a situation comedy," says director Joel Sass, who leads the production of Next Fall. "They march according to our expectations and then they start have to have these deeper shades--all the contradictions and convenient hypocrisies that are particular to all of us."


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Even though playwright Geoffrey Nauffts explores plenty of hot-button issues, his approach is completely non-didactical. "It's free of the demagoguery, polarizing politics, and oversimplification that is endemic of our current culture," Sass says.

To pull it off, the company needs to be conscious of the play's tone. "Something that I have been reminding the actors about is that none of us are aware, in the moment of the tragedy, that we are playing out a tragedy," Sass says. "We really trust the writer. It sounds like situation comedy writing, but there is sophistication to it. If we speak it, the bell will ring itself."

The revelations also come through the characters, who evolve into much deeper creations during the play, which traces Luke and Adam's relationship from the beginning to the previous day. All the while, the group--Adam, two friends, and Luke's divorced parents--try to cope with uncertainty and tragedy.

The religious conflict sits at the center of the production, as Adam and Luke struggle with their wildly different views on morality, life, and death. Luke also struggles with letting his family, especially his father, know about his sexuality.

"Here, we have two guys who are deeply in love with each other, and each one wants the other to do what is most difficult for them to do," Sass says. "It's interesting to see the compromises they make, often through humor. Still, there are points where it stops being funny and starts being serious."

This shifting back and forth created unique challenges for Sass, who also serves as the set designer. In the end, he opted for a set that merges the two locations, so the dressing for the waiting room could double as the basics for an apartment. "I looked at an awful lot of research images of hospital rooms," Sass adds.

As the actors have moved to the stage, "I have been relieved to discover that the assumptions are being validated here. When we get into those apartment scenes we're watching Adam's memory tracking back and forth, so it's perfectly appropriate for it not to be in a realistic mode here."

Next Fall opens Friday.