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Next Fall Tackles the Next Issues in Partner Rights

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The Unicorn has long been known for their willingness to tackle taboo subject matter. Their latest outing, Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts is no exception, taking on issues of the GLBT community and partner rights, as well as religion and self-acceptance.

The show, directed by Jeff Church, is like looking at a dysfunctional photo album of Adam played by Charles Fugate and Luke played by Rusty Sneary, a couple for five years. After a cab accident leaves Luke in a coma, Adam flashes back to the moments that define them as a couple, from their first meeting to their first serious discussions. Throughout the action, it is revealed that while there is much that they love about each other, they can’t connect on one major point: religion. Luke is a Christian and Adam is an atheist.

While this alone is enough to break many couples up, gay or straight, Luke’s Christian views have prevented him from coming out of the closet to his very conservative family. Shoving Adam back in the closet, at least metaphorically rankles him to the breaking point.

Front to Back: Charles Fugate as Adam and Rusty Sneary as Luke in Unicorn Theatre's production of NEXT FALL by Geoffrey Nauffts

Since the story is told in a nonlinear way, this doesn’t proceed like a criminal to the gallows. The show’s jump around storytelling provides moments of levity in a show that really centers on very real and important issues, mainly the issue of partner rights for medical and legal decisions.

For many, the initial clash of Christian versus Atheist will be just as interesting. As a Christian myself, I found this to hit very close to home. The reaction from Adam to Luke’s beliefs reminded me of many conversations about religion where I learned that those that do not believe are not content to let those that do go on. Accusations of judgement fly from Adam when Luke is simply stating what he believes. For many open minded Christians, this rings very true.

Similarly heartbreaking are the scenes where Luke deals with his conservative father, hiding anything that may seem remotely gay, including a book by Truman Capote. His desperation to retain his father’s goodwill and more importantly, his access to his little brother is palpable. While Luke doesn’t pass judgement on others, it is clear that his father has done so enough for the both of them. His fear and self loathing is heartbreaking, but he seems to grasp so tightly to his belief and the comfort it gives him. It is something that Adam doesn’t and never will understand, no matter how much he tries.

The ensemble cast works well together. Holly, played by Heidi Van, provides moments of comic relief and the voice of reason to the demanding Adam. Mark Robbins is suitably gruff in the role of Luke’s father and Merle Moores garners sympathy as the wayward mother that Luke barely had. Doogin Brown as Luke’s long time friend Brad acts as a tightly restrained exterior image of Luke’s self image: an ambiguously gay man that has not come to terms with how to deal with his feelings.

The show balances the incredibly serious subject matter well, injecting humor where it can exist and driving home the helplessness that GLBT partners feel as their loved ones need them the most. It’s no wonder that the show garnered numerous award nominations, including a Drama Desk, Outer Circle Critics and Tony Award.

With this production, the Unicorn makes the most of their revolving stage, creating no less than six psychological spaces in two and a half hours using a few benches and a bookcase. As the show flows, so does the set, with fairly seamless transitions.

Next Fall demonstrates that the Unicorn has an opinion on issues, that much is clear. But by showing Next Fall, they also demonstrate that they are willing to expose beliefs that differ from their own. That willingness to converse within themselves is their strength.

Next Fall runs from now until February 12,2012. For tickets and showtimes, please visit www.unicorntheatre.org.