The Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte’s latest production is provocative and contemporary, its director and leading actors say. Witty, humorous and touching, they hope “Next Fall” has something to offer to all types of audiences.
“One thing that sets this play apart is its provocative look at faith,” says director Dennis Delamar. “People will relate to this show. The main characters are a couple. One goes to church, is a believer, and the other is a non-believer, but they still love each other whatever their reasons and are still together. That’s a universal theme.”
Written by Geoffrey Nauffts, the play made its off-Broadway debut in 2009. It tells the story of Adam and Luke, a gay couple who, with friends and family, are forced to deal with issues of love, relationship and faith.
The Charlotte production opened Nov. 1 and continues through Nov. 19. In it, actor Josh Looney plays Luke, a young, 20-something-year-old, aspiring actor. Southern and religious, Luke serves as a counterbalance to his older, atheist partner, Adam, played by Christian Casper. Based in New York City, most of the play’s scenes center in a hospital waiting room, where Adam, Luke’s parents and friends gather after Luke is involved in an accident. Adam is forced to reckon with his own feelings and opinions, leaning on the support of Luke’s fundamentalist Christian father and reformed “wild woman” mother.
Delamar saw the play during its run in New York. He was struck by just how mainstream it felt and how the mostly-heterosexual audience loved it.
“I’m proud it was written and I’m proud we are doing it here,” he says. “As a director, I believe in good storytelling and writing that serves a purpose. This is a story I wanted to be a part of telling for everybody in our community.”
Adam, Luke and all the other characters in the play are fully-formed people, each with their own doubts and questions.
“Sometimes you want a character to be fully actualized or have all the answers,” Looney says. “It bothered me a bit that Luke didn’t have all the answers and had all these gray areas, but that’s the way people are. We’re all on a personal journey and we all change throughout that journey.”
Throughout the play flashbacks paint a picture of Adam’s and Luke’s relationship over the course of five years. Delamar says the flashbacks are some of the best moments.
“The story proceeds over the period of a day, alternated with scenes from the past documenting Adam’s and Luke’s relationship 5 years ago, 4 years ago, 3, 2, right up to the day before the accident,” Delamar explains. “It’s very wonderful to watch that sequence of their relationship.”
Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte’s production of “Next Fall” is funded in part by a grant from the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund. A special talkback with the play’s actors and director will take place after performances on Nov. 10 and 17.
Looney, who is gay, says he was able to find some inspiration for his character from moments in his own life. Luke’s family is Southern and religious and Luke must deal with his own sexuality and its intersections with faith. When Luke’s parents travel to the New York hospital, they don’t yet know he is gay.
“I understand the gravity of the situation, what it is like to be closeted,” Looney says. “My parents know now but I know what it was like to be younger and to have to hide that with the fear of what if they found out?”
Casper, who is straight, says he caught himself questioning his ability to play a gay character. Ultimately, he concluded it he could.
“I think that’s the most ridiculous thing I asked myself,” he says. “A gay man is just a man.”
The most important theme of the play, Casper finds, is its emphasis on love and acceptance. Despite the weightiness of other issues in the play, Looney says every audience member can find something to connect with.
“It has so many viewpoints and they are all represented honestly,” he says. “Each of the characters have their own honest viewpoint but the characters care about each other. No one is really condemning anyone else. They all care and each have valid believes. It’s not a fight, just an exploration.”
Delamar says the play feels like “one of your comfortable sitcoms.” Still, the playwright’s message goes much deeper and he hopes audience members find the questions posed thought-provoking and inspiring.
“I hope the audience walks away entertained and moved by our wonderful story and humor,” he says. “it is funny, but it is also dramatic. I hope they think about the questions that are raised and how it affects them, where they stand.”
Looney’s ultimate hope is that people can start to see past differences.
“I feel like we are becoming increasingly polarized,” he says. “So many people want to make a checklist — Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, black, white — and people immediately rule people out of their lives. We need to come together as people and we each bring different things to the table, things we can all love about each other without letting these traits define us.”
The play is both emotional and inspiring. “I jokingly say, ‘Truly savored emotion is laughter through tears,'” Delamar says.
But it is the story itself — the lives and the world of the characters — that Delamar finds the most enlightening.
“The events in this play change everybody,” he says. “There are these big, unanswered and uneasy questions. The writer doesn’t answer them, but when you leave the play, I hope you go back to those questions and ask yourself, ‘What do I believe?’ That’s helpful.”
info: Learn more about “Next Fall” and Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte and purchase tickets at actorstheatrecharlotte.org.
[Ed. Note — The original photo caption in this article incorrectly identified actor Christian Casper. Our story has been updated. We regret the error.]