NEW REVIEW! Morningside Players’ production of “Next Fall” An Amazing Night of Theater

MG News Feb-Mar 2024

Morningside Players’ production of “Next Fall” 

An Amazing Night of Theater

Paul Fleishman Cast photo: Back row Mark Hofmaier, Susanna Frazer, Siobhan Regan, Toni Kwadzogah, Kate Forristall;
On sofa: Jusyin Quackenbush, Jim Fredericks (director) Tomas Roldan & Michael DeFelippis;
On floor: Emmett Cleaver (lighting and stage management).

Cast photo: Back row Mark Hofmaier, Susanna Frazer, Siobhan Regan, Toni Kwadzogah, Kate Forristall; 

On sofa: Jusyin Quackenbush, Jim Fredericks (director) Tomas Roldan & Michael DeFelippis; 

On floor: Emmett Cleaver (lighting and stage management).

With talent and tremendous heart, under the skilled direction of Jim Fredericks, the Morningside Players brought to life Geoffrey Nauffts’s witty, insightful play, “Next Fall” (2008) for a long run that began February 1 and was extended through February 23’s sold out show. Set in Manhattan, “Next Fall” is “a carefully written exposition of faith, sexuality and denial, played out across the cultural chasm of the Mason-Dixon Line” (Jonathan Baz Blog, 2014) that has only grown wider in the United States since Nauffts wrote the play in 2008.

Luke is a gay Southerner, committed to his Christian faith, who has been unable to come out to his long-divorced parents.  The play opens with his having sustained life-threatening injuries in a car crash, and “as he lies offstage on a ventilator the drama plays out through flashbacks and real-time, as the jigsaw pieces of his life slowly fall into place.” Luke’s lover Adam is an atheist New Yorker, “stymied by Luke’s shielding of his sexuality from his parents and desperate to be able to express his love for Luke as the younger man’s life hangs by a thread” (Baz). Justin Quackenbush plays Adam, on stage for almost the entire play, bringing passion and credibility into his performance.

“Next Fall” flashes back to the past, revealing through glimpses how Luke’s (Continued from page 1) relationship with Adam evolved. We see how they first met at a party hosted by Adam’s friend Holly, the breakfast following their first date, in which Adam is alarmed to see Luke praying over his eggs and the apartment they move into together. Throughout, Luke and Adam spar over religion. However, there is an easygoing chemistry between Quackenbush’s Adam, who is wittily self-effacing and charming in his (perfectly) nebbishy, older-one-in-the-relationship way and Tomas Roldin’s Luke, who is affectionate, sweet-natured, brimming with callow beauty and optimism.  

Photo: (L to R,Tomas Roldin, Justin Quackenbush, Toni Kwadzogah)

 

The Morningside Players had some battles with Covid: understudy Siobhan Regan (B4) brilliantly replaced Toni Kwadzogah as Holly on short notice the night I attended. Regan’s Holly is smart and loyal, Adam’s longtime confidante, searching for her own sense of meaning and place. As Luke’s friend Brandon, Michael DeFilippis conjures a palpable sense the closet in his buttoned-up portrayal of guilty-gay fundamentalism.

As Luke’s mother, Kate Forristall plays Arlene the reformed wild woman with a wonderful comic ease; as the play turns tragic, Forristall’s Arlene’s own hard-won wisdom and love for Luke come to the fore between her intermittent lurches for the anti-depressants. Mark Hofmaier’s Butch is formidable in his fundamentalist disavowal of all that his own son is becoming, with a requisite cluelessness to all the signs of Luke’s transformations around him. Hofmaier taps into an underlying humanity in Butch that will come roaring to the surface by the play’s end.

The drama is never more intense than when Adam grapples with wanting to tell Butch all, while at the same time the old man is having to contemplate the agony of agreeing to organ donation, should Luke succumb to his devastating injuries (Baz). Director Jim Fredericks makes a bold choice to stage this final hospital scene in front of the stage: an unconscious Luke is wheeled out in his hospital bed no more than a few feet from audience members in the front row (including myself), drawing the audience right in close to brilliant theater. Mark Hofmaier gives an astonishing performance as Luke’s agonized father, tears streaming down his face. As an audience member sitting a few feet away, I was shaken to the core. 

When the lights went up, a neighbor to my right, who was also visibly stirred, said to me, “wow, they all made that real.” Thank you Morningside Players for an amazing night of theater.  By Liz Wiesen