Main point of this review: There's five days left to see Enlightened Theatrics' current production, the play Next Fall. Get your tickets. Now. The last shows are Wednesday-Sunday, November 8-12. My wife and I loved Next Fall -- one of the most enjoyable plays we've ever seen.
There's even a two-for-one ticket offer that likely still holds:
Next Fall is about a gay couple who bicker, argue, make up, break apart, drive each other crazy, help each other be sane, cry, laugh, and otherwise display all the strengths and weaknesses of every other long-term committed couple, homosexual, heterosexual, whateversexual.
Having seen other Enlightened Theatrics shows, we expected the acting to be superb. Indeed, it was.
But what blew me away was how natural the six actors were.
Never, not once, did I think "That line sounded like self-conscious acting" (a thought I often have even with famous actors in big-budget films). The dialogue seemed 100% real. And we had great front row seats, so even a whisper of inauthenticity wouldn't have escaped us.
This speaks volumes about both the quality of the actors being showcased in Salem by Enlightened Theatrics and the directing ability of home town director Vincenzo Meduri.
We Salemians are super-fortunate to be able to see a play like Next Fall for a reasonable price, not to mention being able to buy popcorn that doesn't cost more than the ticket, and be able to eat it in my seat (before the play started, not during, I hasten to add).
Wikipedia tells me Next Fall first opened off-Broadway in 2009. So it must have been written by Geoffrey Nauffts sometime sooner.
Now, I'm not gay, and my understanding of what it means to be gay today is almost entirely based on hearsay, not direct conversations with gay people. So maybe my feeling while watching Next Fall -- things must be better now, aren't they? -- is wrong.
Like I said, the acting was entirely natural and believable.
I just couldn't help but wonder whether two forty-something gay guys would have so much trouble today coming out to their parents. (Well, actually only one of the guys in the play has this problem; the other has his own problems, some Woody Allen'ish as regards his obsessive health anxieties.)
One thunderous compliment I can extend to the cast and crew of Next Fall is that I heard my wife laugh out loud at least once. This is almost unheard of for Laurel at a play, as she, like me, is almost entirely prone to inaudible inward amusement.
So congrats to Nauffts and Paul Bright (Adam) for the line that got Laurel laughing -- as I recall, Adam's mention that someone's guilt over gay sex struck him as akin to the guy dressing in leather and flagellating himself with a whip, which Adam notes is "something that I'd like to see."
Sin-related guilt has a big role in the play.
Adam is an atheist. Luke, his live-in lover, is a Christian. Their discussions about religion aren't so much theological as relational, which makes them way more interesting. In fact, my main after-play question concerned whether Adam viewed Jesus or another gay guy as the central intruder into his loving relationship with Luke.
Which was fitting, for the play is so subtly written, there's little room for rooting for one character over another. Sure, since my wife and I are atheists we felt that Adam mostly got the better of Luke when they argued over religion.
But the Director's Note in the program is spot on.
At this very moment in our country and in our world, we are continually being forced to pick a side. We are pressured to divide ourselves based on differing opinions and beliefs... This way of thinking has permeated so deeply within ourselves that we as a civilized community have forgotten what it is to empathize with anyone or anything that is different from ourselves.
...I hope this production gives our audience a chance to really examine what it means to choose a "side." I hope this production creates a dialogue about empathy and how we communicate with each other. I hope audiences gain courage to continue to live in truth and peace, and I look forward to our audiences leaving with a greater appreciation for their own loved ones.
Life is short and precious and love is the greatest gift we can give.
Nicely said, Vincenzo Meduri.
Today at least 26 people were killed in a Texas church shooting. Listening to news of this tragedy on my car radio, I heard these sorts of sentiments from people in the small town where the murders occurred.
"Trust in faith." "Know that they're with God." "So many prayers are going out to the community." "May God comfort them all."
Ordinarily I'm annoyed by religious proclamations like these. My atheist mind, which works quite a bit like Adam's, will think such things as If God has the power to comfort the living, why didn't he use his power to prevent the 26 deaths?
But having seen Next Fall the night before, and being moved by how religious faith -- even if misguided -- supports believers in dealing with tragedies that otherwise would make no sense to them, I was more understanding of those who looked to God in a time of horrible hurt.
This isn't my way. However, there are lots of ways.
In Next Fall Adam and Luke managed to find common ground that transcended their Christianity and atheism. As Meduri said above, love was the key.
(A New York Times review of the off-Broadway production, "Love With a Proper Atheist and Other Leaps of Faith," is well worth reading.)