By Bridgette M. Redman
One of the most relevant aspects of “Next Fall” to the gay community, said Peppermint Creek Theatre Company’s artistic director, is that it treats the same-sex couple the same as it would a heterosexual couple. The issue is their struggle, not their genders.
“It isn’t cliche in any way,” Badgero said. “There are straight people who are Christian and atheist and there are gay people who are Christian and atheist. This is what a couple struggles with. That is what I love about it. It’s not about the issue of homosexuality; it is really about the issue of a couple struggling with the same things that any couple struggles with.”
“Next Fall” by Geoffrey Naffts explores what happens when one member of a couple that has been together for five years is in an accident and ends up in a coma in the hospital. The Southern Baptist family shows up and their son has never come out to them. They meet their son’s partner in the hospital and through a series of flashbacks, we learn of the struggles the couple has had.
Badgero has seen the production both in New York and Grand Rapids and he knew early into his first viewing that he wanted Peppermint Creek to do the show.
“I went in blind and was so glad that I did,” Badgero said. “It is very witty and funny. The dialogue is wise, there is humor and pathos. I knew immediately that I wanted to direct it here in Lansing.”
After having seen two productions, he says he appreciates the nuances that his cast has brought to the roles. Jonas Greenberg has brought a grounded aspect to the role of Adam, the atheist, while Brad Rutledge has really played up the paternal aspect of the father, Butch.
“There is so much truth and heart in the words they are speaking, and they have really approached the material in a very respectful way,” Badgero said. “I come as a director into a production with an idea of what I think these characters are like, and that’s how I’ve cast them. My actors have done a lot of what I’ve expected, but they have found some really great things I never would have expected.”
He said their interpretation has moved it away from the sitcom feel that he experienced when he first saw it on Broadway and made it a more human show with a more overall serious tone, despite the inherent humor.
It’s an approach that has brought out the universal themes that any couple struggles with. It focuses on the differences in faith that the couple experiences and the ways they try to resolve it.
“The characters have a different approach to their life and the way spirituality factors into that. Some are very specific and traditional, such as the very traditional Southern Baptist father. Then there is Luke who came from that father and was raised as a Southern Baptist, but he is gay and lives in New York City. He’s an actor who is surrounded by Democrats and liberals and has had to figure out how that factors into his life now.”
Badgero said he hopes that Peppermint Creek has established enough of a reputation that audiences will know that they will take a fair and balanced approach to the delicate topic of religion. He found the script to take a very even-handed depiction of the different sides of faith, and they have tried to maintain that in their production. He talks about how the Christian half of the couple accuses the atheist half of being judgmental and says they never would have started the relationship if Adam had known Luke was a Christian.
“The playwright is really trying to show that these people love each other, but they are struggling to understand how to be in a relationship and be fair,” Badgero explained. “This play is fair and even-handed and tries to show both sides of this couple and their approach to faith.”
He points out that this show doesn’t try to say that homosexuality is right or wrong, nor does it take a stance on whether a person should be a Christian or would be crazy to be a Christian. Badgero suggests that is why this play is being produced in so many different parts of Michigan, a state that struggles with LGBT rights in the legal arena. It takes an even-handed approach and encourages people to talk about tough issues.
Peppermint Creek Theatre Company at Creole Gallery, 1218 Turner St., Old Town Lansing. March 29-31. $15. 517-372-0945. http://www.peppermintcreek.org