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BWW Reviews: NEXT FALL at 4th Wall Theatre

Have you ever been in that situation where you are in a room of people and it seems like everyone is avoiding the pink elephant in the middle of it all? Playwright Geoffrey Nauffts uses that moment as a launching pad in his play NEXT FALL, being presented by 4th Wall Theatre at the Westminster Arts Center in Bloomfield, NJ. A group of people have come together in a hospital - some know each other, others don't - and are waiting to hear the results following an accident involving the person that connects them. 4th Wall offers up a moving yet funny look at a modern romance that shares a story about love - love of family and friends as well as that of two people in love.

Nauffts' play was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 2010 and does not shy away from themes of sexuality, religion, and prejudice. Adam, a 40 year old atheist, has had a five year relationship with Luke, a 20-something Christian, and Luke has been hurt in a car accident. Ted Cancila as Adam offers a rich and multi-layered interpretation of the New Yorker in search of it all: perfect relationship, meaning to life, the right job. He remains endearing in the midst of his neuroses and his constant questioning of Luke's faith. He is funny and heart breaking and has wonderful chemistry with Nick Wolf as Luke. Wolf is very believable as the young man who prays before eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without ever crossing over into caricature territory. TV and film have offered us numerous examples of over-zealous religious people, but Wolf is careful to offer a truly human take on Luke. We are drawn to his spirit and we see why everyone in the play has an affinity for him. It is through flashbacks of the men's relationship that we learn how they met, moved in together, and the struggle that Luke has had balancing his life as a Christian and a gay man (without telling his family).

There are friends in their lives who keep that scale from tipping. Vanessa Robinson is Adam's feisty friend Holly who not only offers the men jobs at her store, but who is also looking for something to fill her life with happiness. Ms. Robinson has played many musical roles, and it is great to see her tackle this role of the supportive friend in a play. Alan Van Antwerp plays Brandon, a friend whose connection is not fully explained at first, but who seems to be the religion's anchor in this group. Mr. Van Antwerp has a difficult role in Brandon, but his honest portrayal shines through, and no matter where you may stand in your own personal beliefs, you understand Brandon thanks to this performance.

It is Luke's divorced parents who add an extra divide. The out-of-towners are brought into the fold because of their son's accident, and they are unaware of who Adam is to their son. Lynn Langone as Arlene allows her true Southern roots to propel this role. Ms. Langone has played numerous roles throughout New Jersey, and here she shines with subtlety. One questions if this mom knows more than she lets on and is hiding behind her need to keep conversations going and talk about her now ex-husband and his new wife. She also has some heart-breaking moments that are played beautifully. Her ex-husband Butch is played by Victor Gallo and is everything a gruff, southern, blue-collar dad should be. We may not agree with Butch's bigotry and prejudice, but Mr. Gallo's performance shows we are a product of upbringing and location.

Director Gwen Ricks-Spencer has directed this fine acting company with finesse and truth. She follows the shifts from past to present with an ease that allows audiences to go on the journey of this memory play. Her rhythm as a director is evident in the precision in which comedy and drama are interwoven in this piece and her designers of lights and sound greatly compliment the entire play. Kudos to Artistic Director Kate Swan for choosing such a daring and thought-provoking show for 4th Wall. This play deserves to be seen my many (and the company had a wonderful tryout last weekend in Irvington, NY) allowing for more people to witness it. Don't put off NEXT FALL! This show demands to be seen and heard. It will certainly make you want to address any loose ends or unfinished conversations you may have.

NEXT FALL runs at 4th Wall Theatre, Friday and Saturday, March 13 and 14 at 8 pm, and on Sunday the 15 at 3pm, at the Westminster Arts Center (449 Franklin Street) in Bloomfield, NJ, easily accessible from NYC by train.

Photos by Tom Schopper

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