MANKATO – No need to wait for the autumn leaves.
“Next Fall” takes place this spring – in fact, it takes place tonight and through Sunday in the Andreas Theater at the Earley Center for the Performing Arts at Minnesota State University.
With gay men as the two main characters, the play explores relationships and exposes delicate family dynamics in a universally understood way.
“I really like this play,” said Nevaeh Braucks, production manager of the show and sophomore theater generalist for the St. Cloud area.
“It has a good mix of humor combined with deeper themes of personal loss and closet, and the script is very accessible as it’s written almost in a sitcom fashion.”
With Elton John and her husband David Furnish as producers, “Next Fall” premiered on Broadway in 2010. Playwright Geoffrey Nauffts incorporated elements of his own life as an atheist gay man with a loving Christian partner in a world. pre-gay marriage, although most of the play is fictional.
“The character of Adam (the elder partner) is autobiographical for Nauffts, while the role of Luke is based on Nauffts’ husband,” said Eric E. Parrish, an MFA candidate in his debut. as a director at MSU.
“There is a turning point when Luke, who is not with his family, is in a car accident,” Parrish said.
“Adam and Luke had been together for five years, but Luke’s family don’t know anything about Adam. “Next Fall” explains how we humans relate to one another. “
Adam’s portrayal is MSU senior Nick Finken, an Apple Valley musical theater major who is a veteran of MSU productions.
“He’s not the oldest character I’ve had to play, but Adam has been through a lot – and it’s a lot that I haven’t personally experienced,” said Finken.
“But Eric (Parrish) went through some of these things earlier in his life and he really helped guide me through the real seriousness of the issues, like being in a gay relationship with a bunch of parents who didn’t know it.” and how it feels your partner won’t tell them. “
Parrish clarifies that the period in which “Next Fall” was conceived and created preceded societal changes that have since made life a little easier for same-sex couples.
“It was written before same-sex marriage was legalized,” said Parrish, who is a gay man in a relationship.
“While ‘Next Fall’ is still relevant today, some parts of the story have changed enough that some references clearly place him in this world of pre-gay marriage.”
The COVID-19 protocols presented new challenges to Parrish, his six-member cast, and team members.
“The cast is meant to express intimacy during times of grief and emotional struggle, and without being able to rely on hugs or shoulder touches, a lot of creativity is needed,” Braucks said.
Parrish said, “How do you tell a love story without touching it? It has been interesting to delve into how, as a director, I help actors convey a sense of intimacy without any physical contact – using only body language and eye contact.
“It has been both fun and frustrating. Last week we found some details that really clicked for everyone, and it was exciting. “
Finken illustrates how he and his fellow actors get the job done.
“Instead of holding hands, we place them on a pillow between us,” he says.
“And because we wear masks, there has been a lot of effort trying to bring out all the emotions using only the upper part of our face.”
However, adhering to health and safety protocols has not been the best test for Finken.
“The hardest thing is that the play is naturalistic, so we try to portray these emotions as accurately as possible and not hide them from the audience,” he said.
“There are some very raw moments right next to very light moments, and bringing those emotions out in sequence is very difficult.”
For Parrish, using his skills and experience as an older student presented opportunities.
“This cast – and all of the sets, lighting and sound designers are also students – made it a rewarding collaborative process,” Parrish said.
“Everyone is represented, in that there are different aspects of gender identity, sexuality, religious and non-religious experiences among the cast and crew. I was adamant that we were having conversations about being seen, portrayed and feeling safe with the topics we were discussing; I really wanted their input and their point of view.
Braucks and Finken say Parrish was successful.
“Eric has been very nice to work with,” Braucks said. “My ultimate career goal is to be a director, and he does a good job balancing his pre-planning with the contribution of his acting and creative team.
“I want to follow this example because it is the most conducive to a finished and well-integrated show.”
Said Finken, who appreciated the variety and amount of performing opportunities the MSU theater program has offered him over the past four years: “I really enjoyed working with Eric. He’s very sympathetic and when he gives you a grade at the end of the rehearsal he finds the words to describe it, so that makes sense to you, and it’s really helpful.
Despite the safety limits of COVID-19, Parrish is confident the public will enjoy “next fall” and relate to his messages, regardless of their personal background.
“We put on a show that I’m very happy with,” Parrish said.
“Like in real life, this piece doesn’t resolve itself a certain way, as much as you might want it to, but instead forces the conversation to continue on how best to move forward.”
Braucks said, “It sounds like a story of people who happen to be gay. It’s a fantastic representation of the LGBTQ community, but it’s a story almost anyone can relate to.