By Bridgette M. Redman
ANN ARBOR –
In-law issues are challenging enough without life-threatening illnesses or the fact that the in-laws don’t know their religious son/brother has a spouse. When the spouse is actually a boyfriend with whom he has been in a years-long relationship, things speedily shoot off the register of familial volume.
Geoffrey Nauffts’ “Next Fall” explored these difficult issues on Broadway last year, snaring a Tony nominee for best play. Now it makes its Michigan premiere at the Performance Network Theater in Ann Arbor on June 2, just in time for Pride Month.
“I really respect the fact that Performance Network over the years has had a real commitment to plays that have gay and lesbian themes and content,” said director Ray Schultz, who returned from Minnesota to work on this play. “I really appreciate the opportunity to come back here and work on a piece of literature that is very meaningful. It is really a fitting piece for Pride Month.”
“Next Fall” is a memory play spiced with romance, comedy and drama. The playwright called it a play about faith. Adam and Luke have a five-year relationship, and Luke still hasn’t come out to his family. He is a devout Christian and worries about the soul of his partner who is just as devoutly atheist. When the play opens, Adam is in a hospital waiting room as Luke was hit by a car and is in a coma. The hospital has a “family only” policy, and Luke’s birth family, including a homophobic father, is also there.
The play moves back and forth from the present to the past five years of Luke and Adam’s relationship.
“The play looks at the couple’s relationship and how it has developed to reach the point of where it is in the opening of the play,” Schultz said. “The playwright has juxtaposed those in a fun and interesting way. I have worked hard to really embrace and enhance the aspect of memory of the couple’s journey.”
The play speaks to a number of different issues, Schultz said. “As a gay man I certainly respond to the relationships between the two main characters. It is a very interesting and challenging relationship because of the fact that they are coming at the issues of faith from two very polar opposite stances. Even though they disagree on that issue, they have a very strong relationship.”
Actors Kevin Young and Andrew Huff play the parts of Luke and Adam respectively. Schultz attributes their having worked together before to the intensity they bring to the play.
“They have a really good chemistry,” Schultz said. “They behave like a couple, and that’s something that can sometimes be a difficult thing to achieve in the short amount of time available in rehearsal.”
While the play deals with a gay couple, its themes and issues are relevant for those who happen to be heterosexual as well.
“It is just fundamentally a very funny, touching and dramatic look at a relationship which I think anybody would, regardless of whether you are gay or not, respond to in a very emotional way,” said Schultz. “(The playwright) chose a really human side to the potentially controversial issues of religion and atheism and how religion fits into the framework of being gay or lesbian. It shows all sides of the issue in an even-handed kind of way. I hope that audiences would come out of the play emotionally and intellectually moved, or at least willing to see sides of such complicated issues in different ways.”
Previews June 2-5 & 9, then runs Thursday-Sunday June 10-July 3 at Performance Network Theatre, 120 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. $22-$41. 734-663-0681. http://www.performancenetwork.com