The Caldwell Theater's "Next Fall" Wonders What Happens When God Doesn't Love You Back

Michael Hall, the Caldwell Theatre's founder and executive director emeritus, returns to direct his first production for the company since he passed the baton to Clive Cholerton in 2009. The inspiration for his return is the recent Tony nominee Next Fall, a play that's funny, meaty, and humane enough to lure any professional director out of retirement.

Jumping between past and present, it's a fragmentary portrait of an unconventional threesome: two gay men and the god that comes between them. Atheistic, anxiety-prone Adam (Tom Wahl) has fallen in love with Luke (Josh Canfield), a devout evangelical Christian dead certain of his salvation when the rapture comes, despite the small problem of his homosexuality.

Incredulous of his boyfriend's religion, Adam is obstinate and often unrelenting in his nonbelief, which causes strain on the otherwise solid relationship. But when Luke suffers a life-threatening car accident (it's no spoiler — it happens before the play starts), Adam is forced to confront Luke's conservative parents — to whom Luke never outed himself — as well as his own beliefs.

It would be all too easy to make any number of these people into polarizing caricatures, fitting them snugly into sexual and theological pigeonholes. But all of them come out as three-dimensional humans coping with a tragedy. Hall's direction never misses, finding the perfect comedic and dramatic tones, which are played with tender subtlety by his exceptional ensemble.

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