One of the things I like about theatre is its power to show us where we started and how far we’ve come as a society. A compelling story, simply told, reminds us that we should both appreciate the progress we’ve made, yet still be mindful of the challenges ahead.

This is especially true of Next Fall, written by Geoffrey Nauffts a scant eight years ago. While much progress has been made granting same-sex partners the same rights and freedoms as heterosexual married couples, given today’s divisiveness it’s a good idea to remind ourselves to remain vigilant against a return to the repressions of the past.

Salem’s semi-professional playhouse, Enlightened Theatrics, will present Next Fall as its first non-musical production, starting Oct. 27 and running through Nov. 12 at Salem’s historic Grand Theatre on High Street in downtown Salem.

Next Fall opens in a hospital, where Adam (Paul Bright), in a series of flashbacks tells the story of his five-year relationship with his partner, Luke (Nate Ayers), who’s in a coma after a serious accident. With a balance of humor and honesty, Adam tells how they met, how he’s pleasantly surprised that a man 15 years younger finds him interesting, and how their love not only survives but thrives despite their differences. And it’s not just the age difference: Luke is a devout Christian, while Adam is an atheist. And as Luke discovers, “family only” means something very different in 2009 than it does today.

Luke’s bestie, Brandon (Michael Wardrop), and Adam’s friend, Holly (Claire Rigsby), help drive the story of their relationship from a chance meeting to the post-accident hospital room.

Also at the hospital are Luke’s parents, Butch (Steve Geraghty) and Arlene (Diane Kondrat) who, despite being divorced, still depend on one another in important ways. Incidentally, the hospital is where Butch and Arlene finally discover that their son is gay and has been in a five-year committed relationship with an atheist. It seems Luke never got around to coming out to his Christian parents.

Vincenzo Meduri (center) directs a rehearsal of Last Fall, as assistant stage manager Matthew Willem (left) and stage manager Matthew Whitesell (right) look on.

Before you judge too soon, however, you should know that Nauffts pens characters and their beliefs as neither right nor wrong and deftly balances witty humor with provocative drama. His is not a black-and-white world, but rather one painted in shades of gray. Just like real life outside of politics. After an exciting Off-Broadway run, David Furnish and Elton John produced the Broadway version of Next Fall, which was nominated for a Best Play Tony and a Drama Desk Outstanding Play award.

“Next Fall shows the humanity of us all,” said director Vincenzo Meduri. “We all may have differences, but in the end, we all need one another’s love and support to survive life’s challenges.”

Meduri is also the Executive Artistic Director of Enlightened Theatrics. He was drawn to the script when the playwright’s husband used scenes from Next Fall as classroom material for an annual Broadway Dreams Foundation Master Class at the theatre.

As the audience eavesdrops on the conversations the six characters have in Next Fall, they’ll be able to face issues that may be outside of your experience or challenge your beliefs—but that doesn’t make anyone right or wrong, Meduri says.

Paul Bright, who plays Adam, agrees. “A lot of modern shows are message-heavy, and you’re supposed to walk away with one message,” he added. “This show actually leaves it open by simply presenting different perspectives—really for the sake of the conversation—and you really don’t get that kind of resolution.” That should make for interesting post-show conversations among playgoers.

Next Fall is a bold choice for Enlightened Theatrics’ first non-musical play, and sure to be noticed for its daring and sensitivity to the changes facing modern families. Salem was recently ranked the most LGBTQ-friendly city in Oregon, but while that’s a great accomplishment, as Meduri and his cast know there are still challenges ahead despite progress made.

 

Oct. 27-Nov. 12. Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.
Salem’s Historic Grand Theatre, 191 High St. NE, Salem, OR 97301

Reserved seating: $20-$30. Discounts: Youth under 18 get $5 off with ID. Group rates for parties of 10 or more. For more information, call 503-585-3427 Ext. 1

Box Office: Open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday – Friday at Enlightened Theatrics, 191 High Street, Suite 300. Tickets are also available two hours before shows at the Grand Theatre street-level box office, or call 503-585-3427 x1 or online at EnlightedTheatrics.org.