Firehouse Theater Company and Theatre Out Denver present NEXT FALL running now through September 28th at the John Hand
Theatre. Luke believes in God. Adam believes in everything else. NEXT FALL portrays the ups and downs of this unlikely couple's five-year relationship with sharp humor and unflinching honesty. And when an accident changes everything, Adam must turn to Luke's family and friends for support... and answers. NEXT FALL paints a beautiful and funny portrait of modern romance, asking the hard questions about commitment, unconditional love, and faith. This script covered an array of topics including coming out of the closet, religion vs. homosexuality, evolution, addiction, and even 9/11. While it did get preachy at times, I found this controversial play quite interesting and was intrigued by the intersecting lives of this diverse ensemble.
Honestly, I have to say that this production was a curious one - while there were several excellent performances of the evening, the show was almost hindered due to poor technical decisions riddled throughout the show. The most maddening of these were the overuse of blackouts. Let me break this down for you - there are six scenes in Act One and eight scenes in Act Two, and there was a blackout after every single scene (seriously.....every...single...scene). I think the technical staff missed the side effects of a black that breaks the scene, the fluidity of the show and the concentration of the audience. I guess what I am trying to say is that "Life is Not a Blackout", it is a complex web of memories, present day events and intersecting personal relationships that flow from experience to experience and I truly feel that the show could have reflected that more. In addition to the darkness, there was this ambient, John Tesh/Yanni music that played during those dim times that made the show feel more like a PBS Afterschool Special than the superb drama that it was. Frankly I would have replaced the reflective music with the heart monitor, snapping us back from the charming, insightful flashbacks into the present; and the harsh reality of has happened to Luke and everone involved. Another point of contention were the sound effects that were overplayed and a little too loud to be background noise. One must remember that less is more, establish the scene with sound and then fade out. Here's a couple of examples - when Adam and Luke had their first adorable meeting, I was distracted by the traffic noise that played throughout this entire scene. Another example is when Luke is about to walk off into his accident, a Macy Gray song was playing and I feel that his last moments would have had so much more impact (and more teary eyes) had this scene been done in silence. Finally there was the emotionally charged climax in Luke's ICU room between his parents and Adam was held at bay with but the deafening heart monitor sounds made the dialogue hard to hear and distinguish, which was disappointing in this crucial scene. Enough examples, even with these distractions I did find these fine actors performances quite fascinating!
gave an exceptional performance in the lead role as Adam. He showed such range from sarcastic, witty, frank to conflicted and despair that drew the audience into this emotional role. Mark Lively was so adorable as Luke with a boyish charm and fun flirtiness. I also enjoyed his maturity and growth is role, and his final scene before his demise brought a tear to my eye. His mother, Arlene (fabulously played by Judy Phelan-Hill) was a whirlwind of energy and delight. She showed great contrast and I just loved her performance. Butch was the definition of stoic and grumpy and Michael Leopard
played it to a tee. His awkward scene with first meeting Adam was so funny and his breakdown was simply great. Johanna Jaquith
was also quite superb as the always supportive friend, Holly that was both dynamic and fun to watch in her varied states in time and emotion. Brian Brooks
was good as Brandon, but he never established a presence and I had no idea how he even related to the show or its characters until it was made obviously clear in Act Two, Scene Five.
Director Steve Tangedal did an excellent job in picking out dynamic talent for these emotionally charged characters and drawing out their , but unfortunately missed the mark in other respects. From the awkward blocking in several scenes to the excessive blackouts - these poor choices almost hindered the audiences from becoming totally invested in the performances or their intersecting stories. I also would have altered the final scene to include Luke appearing behind the ICU screen and having him be the last image, thus tipping your hat to the play Our Town, which is referenced several times in this show. This also extended to the sound (by designers Steve Tangedal and Brian Brooks
) bad decisions on length of sound effects and odd music choices. I did, however enjoy the set (by designers Jeff and Alex Jesmer) that covered so many scenes and locations. I especially loved the realness of the hospital waiting room (with great attention to the fun, yet tacky wall designs found in so many hospitals) and the transparent screen between the waiting room, and Luke's ICU.
Even with the technical issues, these wonderfully emotional performances really did shine through much to the audiences delight. NEXT FALL is intriguing audiences now through September 28th at the John Hand Theater at Colorado Free University (7653 East First Place) in Lowry. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. For tickets or more information, contact the Firehouse Theatre box office by calling 303-562-3232 or online at www.firehousetheatercompany.com. NEXT FALL is a collaboration between Theatre Out Denver and Firehouse Theater Company.
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