"No one's the devil, here. We're all just trying to get along." The anonymous quote parades itself not only in the foreword to, but also weaves itself throughout the narrative of, Next Fall, the award-winning play making its Nashville debut with Actors Bridge March 21 – April 6.
“I've had [the quote] in mind through out this whole process,” says director Ricardo Puerta. “It reminds me that really good theatre takes life, shows it to people, and forces them to think whether they want to continue living it the same way or if it's worth making some changes.”
In the play, Luke and Adam are a “contemporary ‘odd couple.’” Adam is a responsible but neurotic atheist, while Luke is an impulsive, underemployed actor and a devout Christian but doesn’t every relationship require a leap of faith? When Luke is involved in a serious accident, family and friends' deeply held beliefs collide.
Next Fall, the 2010 Tony Award-nominated play, is the perfect production for a polarizing time in Southern and conservative communities where religion and society are clashing. And even more so in Nashville, as Tennessee recently made headlines, along with a host of other states, for religious freedom bills masquerading blatant attempts at gay discrimination.
The religious and personal growth themes running throughout Next Fall will appeal to a wide cross-section of the Nashville LGBT (and also hopefully straight) audience. "I feel strongly that my job as the producing artistic director at Actors Bridge is to choose plays that tell stories Nashville needs to hear,” says Vali Forrister. “As a native Nashvillian who grew up in the church of Christ, I can think of no other issue that affects more people I love. I have watched too many friends agonize over choices between love and faith or family. Even those of us ‘recovering fundamentalists’ who have been released from the dogma of our childhood religion are still hiding parts of ourselves out of fear of rejection.”
The production highlights the struggles many in the LGBT audience have when coming out amidst heavily religious families and communities. “I’m a Christian, not an atheist like my character Adam, but I’ve traveled many of the same roads and asked a lot of the same questions,” says Chuck Long. “I have many friends who’ve turned away from religion because of the judgmental attitudes and that breaks my heart.”
Next Fall from Britt Simmons on Vimeo.
Next Fall succeeds because it doesn’t solely focus on Luke and Adam in a bubble. As with any relationship, there are a host of other gravitational forces pulling at the seams of their struggle. Brought together by Luke’s accident, the cast of characters—each committed to contrasting journeys themselves—include Luke’s divorced parents, his childhood friend Butch and Adam’s longtime friend Holly, who serves as metaphor for the families the LGBT community often creates for themselves when coming out.
In addition to the documented experiences the play reflects, it also offers a snapshot into issues that while have been playing themselves out in relationships throughout the LGBT communities for years, have not yet experienced wide discourse. As marriage equality looms and the landscape starts to swell with the narratives of LGBT couples in relationships and/or raising families, the situations of having to navigate raising children and discussing faith are becoming more substantive.
“I believe that one of the great things that Next Fall accomplishes is to broaden and deepen the conversation about what being gay encompasses,” Puerta shares. “While coming out can be a very challenging experience, this play tells us all that there is a whole lot more that needs to be considered, and that people, regardless of their sexual orientation, will never fit in the box we try to put them in just so we can make sense of them.”
With all the heavy-handed issues, the play is sure to make you laugh as well. “It puts the questions out there and brings up some thought-provoking conversations,” says Long, “but it often uses humor as a way to get to some deeper topics, which I love.”
“The writing in Next Fall doesn’t judge the characters,” Long continues. “It presents their stories and let’s the audience react the way they will. I think every audience member will have a different ‘come-away.’”
And Long shares that Actors Bridge has planned for those ‘come-aways’ with a series of Talk Backs planned with “voices from the legal and faith-based worlds, as well as couples who have legally wed in other states and the challenges that face them in a state like Tennessee.”
Theatre in itself is a teaching tool. While Next Fall doesn’t necessarily preach ‘the answer,’ it will surely cause audiences to reflect upon whether their own beliefs are pushing them closer or farther away from those they love in their life.
Next Fall premieres March 21. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays (7:30 p.m.) and Sundays (4 p.m.) through April 6. Tickets are $20 and advance purchases are recommended. Watch O&AN online for ticket giveaways. For more information, visit actorsbridge.org
Photo Credit: John Jackson Photography