By Anna Vecellio
“Great theatre is about challenging how we think and
encouraging us to fantasize about a world we aspire to.” – Willem Dafoe
Watching a play from the Stage Manager’s booth is a unique experience. The Stage Manager has a different perspective from the audience, the director, the cast; it is an all-inclusive one. We attend every rehearsal, every production meeting, and we run the shows. I could tell you about the performances by the actors in Boston College’s recent production of “Next Fall”. I could discuss stage direction, or even the design – all of which came together for a beautiful show. Instead, I’d like to try and explain how, from my perspective, the show touched everyone involved. Of all the shows I’ve worked on, none have prompted the kind of discussions that emerged from our experience of “Next Fall”.
Directed by Sarah Krantz ’15 and written by Geoffrey Nauffts, “Next Fall” is a memory play centered on the five year long relationship between Adam (Andrew Troum), a 40 year-old teacher, and Luke (Jared Reinfeldt), a 30 year-old actor and devout Christian. When Luke is in a terrible accident, Adam must spend the night at the hospital with his quirky friend Holly (Kate Weidenman), Luke’s former friend and equally devout Christian Brandon (Joe Meade), and Luke’s parents Arlene (Maisie Laud) and Butch (Ted Kearnan), who have no idea Luke is gay, let alone that he has been living with Adam for four years. Juxtaposing the hospital scenes with memories from Luke and Adam’s relationship, the show slowly reveals all the tensions, problems, and joys in their lives. The central conflict is Luke’s belief that being gay is a sin – one he must repent for every day. Adam, a steadfast atheist, can’t quite accept God’s central place in their relationship.
Ted Kearnan played Luke’s father, Butch, a man whose wild past led him to cling to the Bible as a way of straightening out his life. His attitude toward Luke’s choice to become an actor, and his verbal homophobia, in part, causes Luke’s self-loathing. Yet, as the rehearsal process went on, the line between Butch the villain and Butch the caring and grief stricken father became harder and harder to see, especially for Ted. Many times, Ted talked about the difficulty of rationalizing the loving devoted father and the man who so whole-heartedly rejected his son’s real life.
“Next Fall” challenges everything we, as a society, have built up around the idea of good and evil, antagonists and protagonists. Adam, the lead of show, should have been the hero fighting for his right to love Luke and be loved in return, yet most of his arguments feature explosions of rage and personal attacks. Andrew, who played him, captured a side of Adam that was much more unsympathetic than the traditional heroic figure. The same went for Jared’s performance of Luke. At times, Luke seemed to be the perfect match for Adam, his soul mate. At others, Luke’s religious devotion drove them apart in a way that was viscerally painful and frustrating. The monsters in this story weren’t the kinds that live under beds and in dark corners. They lived inside every character. The effect of this ambiguity could be seen in every actor – who struggled to find their acting space in the mess of moral greys. It also struck at the audience in the most poignant way I’ve seen in my time in theatre.
The audience sat on both sides of the stage and, as a result, was visible from the booth. Every night, I had a front seat to both the action on stage and the audience’s reactions. From the booth I watched parents, professors, students, and members of the theatre department experience a show that had already touched the people involved in it. Around night two, we started joking about which lines would make audience members cry. Watching from the booth, however, I was struck by the sheer number of moments that evoked reactions from the audience. Moments like: Arlene’s heartfelt monologue about Luke that reveals not only some of the darkest parts of her past but conveys her unbreakable love for her son; when Butch describes the process of removing his son’s organs for donation, revealing some of the clear goodness beneath the bigoted surface; or Adam’s final speech, in which he claims to have finally “believed,” both heart breaking and underpinning the futility of Adam’s aggression towards Christianity.
In the end, this was the power of the show: it created characters that were perfectly human in every way. Those kinds of shows don’t come around often – and if you ever have the opportunity to see one, do it. Or you might miss a chance to have your world view challenged.