‘Next Fall’ lands onstage with ‘huge’ impact

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imageLong at the local forefront for gay-themed plays, Actor’s Express opens the New Year with its latest foray into ground-breaking LGBT stage work with Geoffrey Nauffts’ “Next Fall,” in preview Friday and officially opening Saturday.

A polar-opposite gay couple are at the heart of the play. Adam (Mitchell Anderson, top photo, left) is 40, and Luke (Joe Sykes, right) is in his 20s. Luke is a fundamentalist Christian who is not out to his family, and Adam’s religious beliefs are pretty non-existent. A serious accident brings Adam face-to-face with Luke’s religious parents for the first time. They have no idea Luke and Adam are a couple.

According to gay Atlanta’s own Freddie Ashley, the artistic director of Actor’s Express, “Next Fall” is an impactful drama peppered with laughs.

“It’s awfully funny in places, but the emotional payoff is huge,” Ashley says.

imageIn the play, some of the characters have to make vital, split-second decisions.

“It’s very easy to identify with some of these characters,” Ashley continues. “For me, though, it’s not an issue play. It’s about people who have differences learning to understand each other and determining what is important. We might look at the world differently, but we can still try and understand each other.”

Out actor Mitchell Anderson (second photo), who owns and operates the Midtown restaurant MetroFresh and may be best known for multiple TV roles including “Party of Five” and the movie “Relax… It’s Just Sex,” is a welcome addition to the cast, Ashley says. Mostly retired from acting except for a few choice roles in Atlanta, Anderson has been seen on the Express stage in “Bent” and in “Octopus.”

“He is such a good actor, and it’s a treat to see him onstage,” Ashley says. “He is also one of the nicest people in show business.”

image“Next Fall” is co-produced by part-time Atlantan Elton John and his partner David Furnish. It had a successful Broadway stint in 2010, earning a Tony Award nomination for Best Play. The local production reunites Anderson on stage with Sykes (bottom photo); they appeared together in “Octopus.” Sykes, too, has been in many a play with the company, oftentimes with nary a stitch on.

The play is directed by Kate Warner, the out director who moved to Boston from Atlanta a few years ago and is freelancing around the country. It’s her first show at the Atlanta theater since helming “Octopus.”

Among the other performers in the play are John Benzinger, Jennie “Souper Jenny” Levison, as well as Bill Murphey and Patty French as Luke’s parents Arlene and Butch, who are among the roster’s most interesting characters.

“They are divorced,” Ashley says. “Arlene wasn’t the most attentive mother. She had a drug problem. They are both religious. Butch is religious in a dogmatic way and leads a conservative life, while Arleen is something of a hippie. They both have their opinions.”

Ashley is hopeful of bringing in playwright Nauffts during the run of the show, especially since he and Anderson have been friends for many years.

“Next Fall” runs Wednesdays through Sundays through Feb. 11 at Actor’s Express.

Photos by Offhand Photgraphy via Actor’s Express

imageJim Farmer is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and public relations professional specializing in film promotions. He has been a theater and pop-culture critic for more than a dozen years and is the director of Atlanta’s annual Out On Film gay and lesbian film festival.

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