BWW Review: Fantastic Z's NEXT FALL a Beautiful Play with an Uneven Emotional Core
There are two things, Dear Readers, that drive me crazy in watching any theatrical endeavor, shmacting and not listening, we'll dive into the meanings of those more in a bit, but what they accomplish is sapping the emotional core from a show. Fantastic Z's current production of "Next Fall" partially suffers from these dilemmas in that half of the cast is guilty of it. And in a show like this, only half an emotional core is just not enough.
But let's talk about Geoffrey Nauffts' stirring play first as we focus on the relationship of Adam and Luke (Jason Quisenberry and Jimmi Cook) through flashbacks. We see the beginnings of their relationship as The Manic, unfocused 40 year old Adam is hit on by the hunky, confident and devout 20 something Luke. Things progress nicely in their relationship as Adam works on finding a more fulfilling career and Luke's acting begins to take off. But all is not rainbows and unicorns as Luke's devout Christianity continues to be a sticking point for Adam and to make matters worse Luke has never told his family that he's gay let alone he's living with Adam. Now cut away from the flashbacks and we're in a hospital room as Luke is in a coma from a car accident and all their secrets may come flying out whether they like it or not as Adam, Luke's Parents (Carrie Schnelker and Nicholas Horiatis), and Luke's friends (Jessica Severance and Erik Siegling) converge on the same hospital.
OK, let's get to the dilemmas. My readers know of my disdain for actors that don't listen to their fellow actors (or at times the words coming out of their own mouths) and are just waiting for their next cue. Well there was plenty of that here which just made the shmacting look even worse. Allow me to explain. Shmacting or surface acting is what I call it when actors present what they think their character's emotions or intent would look like rather than internalizing it and feeling it themselves. I remember being horrified walking backstage and finding a fellow actor making faces in a mirror. When I asked what she was doing she said she was practicing looking surprised. Don't LOOK surprised, BE surprised.
And it's with these two dilemmas where the show seemed to fall into two camps. Whereas Cook, Severance and Siegling seemed completely invested in the story, their characters, and the others on stage; Quisenberry, Schnelker and Horiatis seemed to be going through the motions. And those motions seemed to only have one speed. Especially Quisenberry who played the character all night long with one level, manic, making him quite boring and unsympathetic. And so, with these two camps it felt like half the cast was trying to present a riveting piece and the other half were in a bad sitcom. Director Buddy Todd seemed to be OK with this as much of the tone of the show came off as blasé. Sure, this man we love is in a coma but let's be flippant with no sense of anxiety.
As I said, there were some bright spots. Severance tried to be invested in the scenes but was mostly paired with people that weren't and the same could be said for Siegling and Cook. But with Cook, he managed a wonderful presence that overcame the lack of connection and made you care for him and this was the only saving grace for me for the emotional core of the play.
Now, of course, this could be me being really picky. I love this play and so I want to see it done extremely well and not simply good enough. But that's the problem. So often these days we're settling for good enough when we should only settle for outstanding. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Fantastic Z's production of "Next Fall" a disappointed MEH. Others in the theater seemed quite moved by the production. I'm still waiting for an amazing production of this to sweep me away. I know it can happen if we just don't settle for good enough.
"Next Fall" from Fantastic Z performs at the Ballard Underground through October 14th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.fantasticz.org.