“Next Fall” Looks at Life, Death, & Love

triangle-nextfallBy Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly

Geoffrey Naufts’ play “Next Fall” centers on a couple, Luke and Adam, exploring their differences—Luke’s devoutly religious and Adam’s an atheist—and the ways they negotiate them. A life-threatening accident brings the men’s families together and the issues of faith and doubt into high relief.

Triangle Productions brings the play, which won a Tony for Best Direction during its Broadway debut in 2010, to Portland from March 13 to April 6. Triangle’s Artistic Director Don Horn, who will direct this production, says the play fits the company’s mission, and also resonates with him on a personal level.

“The play is very close to me as I had a similar life situation when my son lay in a hospital bed in a coma for 46 days,” Horn says. He hears echoes of his own experience in some of the plays tense, intimate moments. “The questions that are raised and the opinions of those around are very eerie,” Horn says. “No one knows how they will react until this type of a situation is thrust upon them.”

Horn says he longs for the play, which the New York Times’ Ben Brantley praised as “artful, thoughtful and very moving” to inspire reflection among audience members, particularly concerning the touchy, and at times divisive, subject matter it explores.

“My hope is that the show causes people who either see the production or who read about it begin to have a dialogue,” he says. “I’m a person whose life is based on faith; however, I do not expect anyone to follow my way of believing. One question that is asked of me is, ‘How can you believe in a God that doesn’t love your life style?’ Ah, I don’t think he likes many people’s lifestyles, but he loves me as I am one of his creations.”

Triangle will partner with Basic Rights Oregon on the productions, with BRO holding a talkback following an as yet undetermined Sunday performance. It’s an arrangement Horn enjoys. “I believe that anytime theater can partner with organizations it’s a win-win for both,” he says. “BRO was a renter of mine when I owned the Theater! Theatre! This won’t be first time we’ve worked together, as we did so in 2004 for Measure 36, when Jeff Whitty came to town after he won the Tony for Avenue Q.”

Among the cast members in “Next Fall” is AM Northwest co-host Helen Raptis. Raptis, a news and morning program presence for over 20 years, also has extensive Portland theater experience, having appeared in “The Vagina Monologues” and “The Laramie Project” at the Newmark Theater, “Sordid Lives” and “Juicy Tomatoes” with Triangle, and, most recently, a cameo spot in Portland Center Stage’s “Twist Your Dickens.”

Horn and Raptis clearly share a deep mutual admiration, with Horn saying emphatically, “I love Helen!” and Raptis offering that, “I’ve worked with Don a number of times before and the experiences have always been fantastic.”

Horn jokes about the differences between Raptis and her character Arlene, saying, “She will be challenged by this work as it is not her ‘normal’ way of living.” For her part, though, Raptis sees many similarities between herself her latest role, however, musing, “Well, Arlene talks too much, often putting her foot in her mouth. She loves her son, her dog, and even her ex-husband. She’s also flawed, and I can relate to all of that.”

Raptis shared her diagnosis and struggle with breast cancer with television audiences in 2000. Her reports on the topic earned her a Regional Emmy nomination. She says her own life threatening experience informs her understanding of “Next Fall” and its themes.

“Cancer rocks your world and makes you a more compassionate and empathetic person,” she says. “You learn how fragile life can be. At any moment, on any day, your life can be turned upside down.”

As a veteran of television and the stage, Raptis finds it difficult to compare the experiences. “Both are an adrenaline rush,” she says. “In theater I play someone else, on TV I’m myself, and both are challenging and exciting.” In the end, though, theater offers something television doesn’t. “I do love the applause of an audience. Now that is really a high that can’t be equaled.”

The Tony award winning drama “Next Fall” is another entry in what’s proved an incredibly diverse season from Triangle Productions, which has included the grand, sumptuous musical “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” as well as Wendy Westerwelle’s current one-woman comedic show “Medicare-Fully Fabulous.”

Horn says he doesn’t think about seasons in terms of the big picture, though.

“Producing for 24 years I’ve never found a ‘formula’ that really works, except listen to the audience and give them what they want,” he says. “I think my audiences want to have the variety. As you can tell, we don’t produce what others do!”

“Next Fall” Triangle Productions. 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. March 13th through April 6th. See website for details.