Ron Jones, Founding Artistic Director of Celebration Theatre, deserves endless praise for the bold mission and theatrical experiences he is fearlessly bringing to the Houston Theatre Scene. Dedicated to producing compelling plays that handle LGBT issues with sensitivity and integrity, Ron Jones is opening Celebration Theatre's inaugural season with Geoffrey Nauffts' riveting and emotionally charged drama NEXT FALL. The small audience gathered at Obsidian Art Space at the performance I saw witnessed history in the making, and hopefully Celebration Theatre will grow a loyal audience and experience many years of success in Houston.
Ron Jones' direction of NEXT FALL gorgeously captures each of the beautiful and tender moments of romance, friendship, faith, and family. Moving through the minefield of emotional devastation and dealing with the uncertainty of a comatose loved one on the brink of death, no character's reactions seems out of place or unbelievable. Moreover, in the intimate venue, the sparkle of real tears is unmistakable on the cast's faces, making the play all that more moving and touching. Under Ron Jones' masterful direction, this cast perfectly commits to their roles, bringing to life a story that is altogether real and powerful.
Brad Goertz is perfectly natural as the show's star, Adam. He is supremely convincing as a 40 year old that is insecure yet confident all at the same time. He delivers a powerful performance that leaves a lingering impact, as he struggles to put his love and devotion for his partner Luke over their clash of religious beliefs. Exploring the need to find a way to balance extreme faith with pedestrian faith in their romantic relationship, Geoffrey Nauffts writing coupled with Brad Goertz's acting delves into the power of compromise that makes relationships lasting and fulfilling on many levels.
Perfectly supporting Brad Goetrz, both Luke as portrayed by Zach Lewis and Holly as portrayed by Daria Allen add depth, sincerity, and raw emotions to the show. Zach Lewis is playfully flirtatious and honest in his love and adoration for Adam, delivering a profound and stirring romantic relationship to the audience. Zach Lewis adroitly balances the light-hearted and fun aspects of Luke with the raw, gut-wrenching aspects of being closeted with your family-one of the major conflicts in Adam and Luke's relationship. Despite this, the chemistry between these two men is tangible, making the central conceit about Adam's inability to visit Luke in the hospital all the more heartbreaking. Thus, it becomes clear that a central theme in the show is the lack of equality in visitation rights at hospitals for homosexual couples. Moreover, Daria Allen shines as the logic driven foil to emotionally charged Adam, always offering level-headed advice to Adam which keeps him from rash decisions that would only add more pain to his suffering. This aspect of their friendship is also explored through several of the flashbacks that span the five years before the play's present time. Both Zach Lewis' Luke and Daria Allen's Holly serve as dynamic and important foils to the haste of Adam's heartache and despair, grounding his actions while motivating others and adding clarity to the power of both romantic and friend relationships.
Rounding out the cast, Matt Benton as Brandon, Tek Wilson as Arlene, and Bob Beaudreaux as Butch added more profundity to the complicated relationships Adam and Luke had with their friends and families. Matt Benton's Brandon, like Luke is driven by his faith, explaining to Adam why Luke makes some of the choices he does. Tek Wilson's Arlene is the perfectly imperfect mother, just looking to reestablish a connection with her son. Bob Beaudreaux's Butch is a willfully ignorant father, not willing to accept his son's identity. Each of these actors portrays their role with crisp ingenuity, energetically allowing the audience to explore the obstacles of close relationships on a variety of levels.