Saturday, October 06, 2012

NEXT FALL, emotionally challenging, thought provoking at Blank Canvas

When Blank Canvas opened its doors in a funky hard to find near-west side arts building, the question was whether artistic director Pat Ciamacco’s underfunded endeavor of love would make it.  The first show, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MUSICAL, was an artistic smash hit.  It was followed with critically acclaimed OF MICE AND MEN and then HELLCAB. 

Their newest offering, NEXT FALL, is an emotionally challenging, thought provoking drama which continues the theatre’s “wow” streak.

Geoffrey Nauffts’s NEXT FALL opened off-Broadway in 2009 to extremely positive reviews.  Sold out shows resulted in three extensions and then a move to a successful Broadway run.

Termed as “artful and thoughtful and very moving,” and “humorously absorbing and touching,” and “the funniest heartbreaker in town,” it concerns
Adam, an older, gay, neurotic atheist, and his relationship with Luke, an impulsive, closeted gay actor who is a devout Christian. 

This is a match that defies the odds.  Luke prays before meals, after sex, and won’t reveal his sexuality to his traditional Southern Bible-belt family.  Adam is a hypochondriac, who doesn’t believe in heaven, The Bible, or the power of prayer.  They prove the adage that sometimes love conquers all. 

Their five-year relationship seems to be hitting a road bump when, while Adam is out of town, the taxi Luke is riding in is involved in a horrendous accident, leaving Luke in a vegetative state.  Adam, and Luke’s family and friends, are forced to deal with life, death and challenges to their individual belief systems.

The play, which starts with a loud crash ends with the audience in a state of emotional angst, should leave even the most emotionally void members of the audience reaching for Kleenex and questioning their own convictions.

The Blank Canvas’s production, under the adept guidance of Patrick Ciamacco, is absorbing.  The cast doesn’t portray the characters, they live their individual roles.  Motivations are clear, with each performer so well texturing their roles that each person becomes transparent.  Wisely, there is an avoidance of the fey physical and vocal affections that are often woven in the creation of gay characters.

Slight Timothy J. Allen’s Luke is believable as the obsessed young man who clings to religion to make his world work.  He cannot and does not waver from Jesus-centered path in spite of the fact that his intransigency leaves him in a quandary regarding his life style, and may end his relationship with Adam. 

Curt Arnold, as Luke’s lover, Adam, creates a clear daddy figure who allows Luke to live his gay life in New York, while hiding his sexual identity from his family.  Arnold clearly establishes both the character’s theological ambivalence and emotional bonding to Luke, with an underlying insecure hysteria.

Anne McEvoy, with a southern accent highlighting her history of drug and non-conventional life decisions, is both humorous and pathetic as Luke’s biological mother, who abandoned him early in his life. 

Lindsay Pier, as Luke and Adam’s friend and candle store employer, creates a focused character, as does Jason Elliott Brown as Brandon, Luke’s closeted friend.

Jeffrey Glover captivates as Luke’s explosive Bible thumping, homophobic father.

The play takes place in a series of settings, which, because of the limited size of the venue’s thrust stage, creates crowded areas.  Though it is possible to figure out where each scene is taking place, reference to the program’s scene settings list is often needed.

Time eras, which cover 2007 to 2012, are identified by musical bridges.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  NEXT FALL continues the Blank Canvas’s streak of well conceived productions of challenging scripts.  Though viewers may have to set aside their own individual beliefs in order to buy into the play’s ending, this is an overall positive theatrical experience and very well worth seeing.
NEXT FALL runs through October 21 in its theatre at 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website.  (My GPS was of little help).  Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  It’s an adventurous trip, but worth the effort. For tickets and directions go to