Thursday, February 24, 2011

Theater feature: 'Next Fall' marks Hall's return to Caldwell director's chair

Tom Wahl and Josh Canfield in Next Fall.‭
(‬Photo by Dustin Hamilton‭)

By Hap Erstein

More than a year and a half ago,‭ ‬Caldwell Theatre co-founder Michael Hall handed off the artistic reins of the Boca Raton stage company he had run for‭ ‬36‭ ‬years.‭ ‬But he suspected it was just a matter of time before we would be back directing a production there,‭ ‬and that time is now.

Opening Friday evening is Hall‭’‬s staging of‭ ‬Next Fall,‭ ‬the Tony Award-nominated play from last season that he has been itching to direct since he happened upon it off-Broadway in‭ ‬2009.

As he often did on scouting trips to New York,‭ ‬he called up two of his favorite actresses‭ ‬--‭ ‬Pat Nesbit and Vicki Boyle‭ ‬--‭ ‬who had appeared often on the Caldwell stage over the years,‭ ‬and asked them what they should see.‭

“Nesbit said,‭ ‬‘Well,‭ ‬a friend of mine has written a play.‭ ‬I was on tour with him in‭ ‬‘Biloxi Blues.‭’’‬ So they bought tickets and we went,‭ ‬not knowing anything about it.‭ ‬At intermission,‭ ‬we just kind of looked at each other,‭ ‬saying,‭ ‬‘Wow,‭ ‬this is‭ ‬wonderful,‭’‬ ” and Hall began working on getting the performance rights to‭ ‬Next Fall for the Caldwell.

Nesbit‭’‬s friend is Geoffrey Nauffts,‭ ‬artistic director of the Naked Angels theater troupe,‭ ‬and his play concerns an unlikely gay couple‭ ‬--‭ ‬15‭ ‬years apart in age,‭ ‬one a devout Christian fundamentalist,‭ ‬the other a staunch atheist.‭ ‬As the play begins,‭ ‬the younger partner,‭ ‬Luke,‭ ‬has just been in a car accident that lands him in an intensive care unit,‭ ‬as relatives and friends hold vigil in the hospital waiting room.‭

Over the course of‭ ‬15‭ ‬scenes that flash back and forth cinematically over a five-year span,‭ ‬we get to know Luke,‭ ‬his lover Adam,‭ ‬Luke‭’‬s homophobic father Butch,‭ ‬his divorced mother and Adam‭’‬s boss at a candle shop,‭ ‬where he is underemployed.‭

The Caldwell seems a natural fit for the play,‭ ‬since Hall has long championed gay-themed works there,‭ ‬from‭ ‬Bent‭ ‬to‭ ‬The Boys in the Band to‭ ‬Gross Indecency:‭ ‬The Trials of Oscar Wilde to‭ ‬Take Me Out.‭ ‬As Hall recalls,‭ “‬The first time we did‭ ‬‘Bent‭’‬ we were terrified,‭ ‬but that was a long‭ ‬time ago.‭ ‬And it was a standing-ovations screaming success.‭ ‬So we knew then that subject matter would not be a problem here.‭”

Besides,‭ ‬Hall does not consider‭ ‬Next Fall to be a gay play.‭ “‬I think it‭’‬s a play about religion or lack of it.‭ ‬I think this play really is about someone who totally and truly believes in a faith and someone who really does not,‭”‬ he says.‭ “‬While,‭ ‬yes,‭ ‬two of the characters are obviously gay,‭ ‬but it could be two genders.‭ ‬There are other major issues in the play and it‭’‬s very today.‭ ‬Times have changed.‭ ‬I think the majority of people think,‭ ‬‘We‭’‬re not going to be shocked anymore.‭ ‬That‭’‬s just a part of life.‭’‬ And‭ ‬‘Next Fall‭’‬ isn‭’‬t trying to shock anyone.‭”‬

If anything,‭ ‬the play wants the audience to consider its own view on religion and faith.‭ “‬You‭’‬re not going to change your feelings,‭ ‬but I think you will question what is possible,‭”‬ says Hall.‭ “‬And who doesn‭’‬t wonder,‭ ‬regardless of whether you were brought up religious,‭ ‬or agnostic or atheist,‭ ‬who doesn‭’‬t think‭ ‬about what happens and why are we here‭? ‬Nobody‭’‬s going to preach to you,‭ ‬but there are some very big questions being asked.‭”

Michael Hall.‭
(‬Illustration by Pat Crowley‭)

Ask Hall which side of the religion issue he personally comes down on and he will launch into a memory that he shared with the‭ ‬Next Fall cast.‭

“When I was a teenager,‭ ‬I was chosen to be one of thousands of Presbyterians from around the world to go to Grinnell,‭ ‬Iowa,‭ ‬to attend an international conference of Presbyterian youth.‭ ‬We were housed in Grinnell College,‭ ‬a religious school.‭ ‬And after the first day of all this singing and such,‭ ‬there was a little movie theater across the campus.‭ ‬I wandered over and on the marquee it said,‭ ‬‘Grinnell Native Jean Seberg in Saint Joan.‭’‬ Well,‭ ‬guess who went AWOL‭ (‬from the conference‭)‬.

“That was a pivotal moment in my life,‭ ‬because of Shaw,‭ ‬Saint Joan,‭ ‬the movies,‭ ‬Jean Seberg‭ ‬--‭ ‬even though I didn‭’‬t know who she was at the time.‭ ‬I guess the theater is my church.‭ ‬And so,‭ ‬where am I coming from‭? ‬Lots of‭ ‬questions,‭ ‬no certainty at all,‭ ‬but with a great regard for people who believe.‭ ‬I wish I could be that.‭”

As to what speaks most forcefully to him in‭ ‬Next Fall,‭ ‬Hall ponders for a minute and says,‭ “‬I think I find it very intriguing how people who come from totally different beliefs,‭ ‬ages and places,‭ ‬if they allow themselves to listen to each other,‭ ‬there will be hope for growth and peace in the world.‭ ‬I think it happens to Butch in the play,‭ ‬because finally he is willing to realize that certain things are‭ ‬true that he didn‭’‬t think should be or could be.‭”

If there is one thing that Hall is certain of,‭ ‬it is that he has enjoyed getting back into the director‭’‬s chair.‭ “‬It‭’‬s sort of like old times,‭ ‬because I never really left.‭ ‬I‭’‬m usually here once or twice a week,‭”‬ he says of the Caldwell.‭ “‬(New artistic director‭) ‬Clive‭ (‬Cholerton‭) ‬and I find ourselves e-mailing at‭ ‬3‭ ‬o‭’‬clock in the morning.‭ ‬It‭’‬s been really good to be able to do the things that I have wanted to do,‭ ‬and then be able to step back and direct a play.‭”

And if he could direct one production a season,‭ ‬that would be ideal,‭ ‬says Hall.‭ “‬We‭’‬re talking about next season.‭ ‬One a year would be really great.‭ ‬That would give me the time to really prepare it and cast it,‭ ‬which usually takes more time that you have.‭”

He is enjoying retirement,‭ ‬which has included travels to Russia,‭ ‬France and Germany,‭ ‬as well as writing a family history.‭ “‬I work as much,‭ ‬if not more,‭ ‬but I don‭’‬t have any deadlines,‭”‬ Hall says with a satisfied smile.‭ “‬I can write all day and don‭’‬t‭ ‬have to be somewhere for a meeting to raise money.‭”

NEXT FALL,‭ ‬Caldwell Theatre Co.,‭ ‬7901‭ ‬N.‭ ‬Federal‭ ‬Highway,‭ ‬Boca Raton.‭ ‬Sunday,‭ ‬Feb.‭ ‬20‭ ‬-‭ ‬Sunday,‭ ‬March‭ ‬27.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$27-$75.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬561‭) ‬241-7432‭ ‬or‭ (‬877‭) ‬245-7432.‭

Irene Adjan,‭ ‬Tom Wahl and Josh Canfield in Next Fall.
(‬Photo by Dustin Hamilton‭)

No comments: