Religions collide in The Rep’s stellar staging of ‘Next Fall’

‘Next Fall’: Featuring (L to R): Colin Hanlon as Luke and Jeffrey Kuhn as Adam. Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

By Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Seth Gordon, associate artistic director of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, does a masterful job in his directorial debut with a superb production of “Next Fall,” the Tony Award nominated play by Geoffrey Nauffts.  The play, which had a hit run on Broadway, is being presented at the Grandel Theatre in Grand Center, the venue for several of The Rep’s erstwhile “Off-Ramp” series, which runs edgier theatrical fare than typically presented on its Mainstage or Studio sites.

By turns tragic and comic, bitter and sweet, “Last Fall” is the story of a three-way “interfaith relationship” among Adam, a 40-ish lapsed Christian and determined atheist; Luke, his lover of five years who is an Evangelical Christian and Brandon, the Jewish former lover and still friend of Luke, who has been involved in a serious auto accident that leaves him clinging to life.  

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Adam is played with spot-on credibility by Jeffrey Kuhn, who is convincing as the neurotic hypochondriac who truly loves Luke, but is enraged by Luke’s habit of praying after they have been intimate.  Luke is seen in numerous flashback scenes in the New York apartment he shares with Adam, and in actor Colin Hanlon’s deft hands, the character is executed with much appeal. While Luke is no match for Adam intellectually, he seems to have his emotional act together, and his faith gives him the strength to face adversity and to calm Adam down when he is imprisoned by his irrational health phobias.

Rounding out the small cast is Susan Greenhill, as Adam’s medication-addicted divorced mom, who is alternately funny and utterly pathetic as she recalls what a wreck she was as a mother and wife. Keith Jochim is a standout in the challenging role of Butch, Luke’s huge, in-your-face dad, who is absolutely sure of everything while remaining firmly in denial about his son’s obvious gay relationship with Adam.  Ben Nordstrom delivers a restrained and ultimately moving performance as Brandon, Luke’s previous love interest, and Marnye Young is endearing and convincing as Holly, Adam’s straight woman friend and confidant.

The play’s scenes unfold in the hospital waiting room where the cast of characters sort out their complex feelings and raw emotions as Luke faces possible death, and in Adam and Luke’s apartment, humorously called Luke’s “bachelor pad” by his clueless dad.  Scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge deserves credit for the simple but convincing sets, as do Rich Cole for success in recruiting an outstanding cast and stage manager Shannon B. Sturgis for smooth and flawless scene changes.

Nauffts, who was on hand for the play’s opening, has written a compelling, funny and affecting play of ideas. The arguments among Adam, Luke and Brandon on love, sex, religion and the ultimate meaning of life are splendidly crafted.

Adam persistently challenges Luke’s deeply held Christian beliefs, while Luke, who clearly in no mental giant, demonstrates he’s much more in touch with his emotions and values.  In some ways, he seems less rigid in his Evangelical Christian beliefs and practices (he is pro-choice and favors stem-cell research, and only prays a few times out of consideration to Adam) than Adam, who is firmly entrenched in a secular, scientific approach to life.

The play commands the audience’s attention throughout its two acts because it makes us care about all of the characters, and succeeds in doing what good theater does best: it makes us want to talk about what has transpired long after the curtain goes down.

‘Next Fall’

When: Through Nov. 14

Where: Grandel Theatre,

3610 Grandel Square

How much: $18- $45

More info: 314-968-4925 or www.repstl.org