Next Fall, the Geoffrey Nauffts play now running at Dallas Theater Center, presents a family acting out more issues than an episode of Dr. Phil. Mom and Dad (played by Kieran Connolly and Candy Buckley) are divorced. Dad's an old-school Old South bigot who hates gays and minorities, but loves guns and God. Mom's an old hippie who may be back on the painkillers she once went through rehab to kick. Their 25-year-old son, aspiring actor Luke (Steven Michael Walters), is in a coma in a New York City hospital. He was hit by a cab. It doesn't look good for him.
Into the hospital waiting room runs Adam (Terry Martin, the WaterTower Theatre artistic director, returning to acting in a big way here). Luke's parents don't know it, but the 45-year-old teacher has been their son's live-in boyfriend for five years. Adam's hesitant to reveal closeted Luke's real life, but the hospital will only let "family" into the ICU to see dying Luke. Adam has to say something or be shut out.
Fraught with complications, Next Fall layers on the conflict, sometimes too heavily. Two supporting characters, played by Lynn Blackburn and Lee Trull, hover in the background. They have their secrets, too.
The best thing about this production, performed in DTC's old home at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, is the acting. Directed by Kevin Moriarty, the cast is tight, handling Nauffts' dialogue with such subtlety and grace, the hammer-over-the-head arguments almost seem realistic. Buckley's especially good at this. She makes the mother a tough, earthy woman with a smoker's deep laugh.
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In flashback scenes that alternate with the hospital plot, we see Luke and Adam meet, flirt and fall in love. Their relationship's speed bumps are all about Luke's reluctance to come out to his family - "Maybe next fall," he says - and about his devout Christianity. Adam's an atheist and Luke's concern that Adam is going to hell without being "saved" strike him as ridiculous and more than slightly insulting to his intelligence.
By the second (and better) act, the relationships have been laid out and Nauffts can get on with the important stuff. The play gets more serious with every scene, leading up to Adam's goodbye to Luke. Because Martin and the other actors are so good, so likable, we do care about them by the end. Everyone in this play has his or her life changed by that speeding cab. By the end, Next Fall feels like a meaningful ride.
Next Fall continues through May 6 at Kalita Humphreys Theater. Call 214-880-0202 for tickets.