Asheville is filled with great theater. So much so, that it is somewhat surprising when something exceeds expectations. Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective‘s new production of the Geoffrey Naufft’s play Next Fall does just that. The show is funny, tragic and will cause viewers to challenge many preconceived notions about religion, homosexuality, family and death.
The play is set in a hospital waiting room with flashbacks to the past several years. A group of people assemble after a young man named Luke has been hit by a car and is barely hanging onto life. His friends, his significant other Adam, and his long-divorced Southern Baptist parents are all there. But, due to Luke’s devout Christianity and his struggles with questions of sin as a gay man, not every detail of his life is out in the open, especially to his family.
Director Scott Keel assembled the perfect ensemble cast and guided them into very subdued and disturbingly realistic performances.For most of the two hours, the audience feels more like they are eavesdropping on real life rather than watching a performance. The actors are close to the audience in the intimate BeBe Theatre space, but the raw emotion of the play and the skill of the cast bring them even closer. Keel’s sound design runs almost throughout the show, except in select instances when the absence of the outside noise is as obvious as it is impactful.
Michael Lilly and Kay Galvin bring their many years of experience to the roles of Butch and Arlene, both shining in powerful moments as their son slips away from them. Dwight Chiles lends a quiet calm to the play. Courtney DeGennero, the best friend/confidant/foil, gives us a charming and relatable character. Paul Gallaher is Luke, stuck at the center of the conflict between being being gay and religious. In the flashbacks he makes his struggle both sad and somewhat frustrating for those interested in bridging the divide. Ultimately the play hinges on Sean David Robinson’s portrayal Adam — a vulnerable performance that spans the full spectrum of emotion.
Next Fall continues its run through Saturday, Nov. 22. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. $15/$18.