As Mental Health Awareness Week comes to a close, the Columbia University Players bring the themes of human compassion, acceptance, and vulnerability to the stage in their new production, “Next Fall.” The play, written by Geoffrey Nauffts, premiered in New York City in 2010 and aims to explore issues like religion, spirituality, sexuality, and mortality—specifically how they affect young adults on a daily basis.
The plot focuses on Luke (Aaron Kane, CC ’17), a gay man who tries to reconcile his sexual identity with his Christianity and his family’s opinion. The play opens in a hospital waiting room after Luke has suffered injuries from a severe car accident. As they await the doctor’s diagnosis, his parents meet Adam (Zachary Flick, CC ’17), Luke’s slightly neurotic and atheist boyfriend, and Luke’s friends, Holly and Brandon. Luke’s identity begins to unravel under the pressure. Adam and Luke’s five-year relationship is revealed through flashbacks, while the present crisis of Luke’s hospitalization brings to light half a decade of living in the shadows as a queer couple.
“It [the use of flashback] makes a really wonderful statement about love’s potential as it tackles relevant issues like sexuality and religion,” director Cristina Angeles, BC ’16, said in an email.
Kane began acting his sophomore year in high school but has found the relatable nature of this contentious but deeply human character to be unparalleled.
“I became really connected with my character, more so than I ever had in a role before,” Kane said in an email. “Luke is a character that I can relate to, and getting to know him and bring him to life has been an incredible journey.”
An exploratory and collaborative rehearsal process was needed to fully develop the characters of Luke and his friends and family, and due to the play’s small cast size and intense content, this intimacy evolved naturally.
“This show requires quite a bit of discussion in order to even begin to understand exactly what it is we should be portraying,” Rachel Cramer, BC ’17, who plays Holly, said in an email. “Because of this, rehearsals consisted of conversations that ranged from how to pronounce religious words—especially for me—to the complexity of sexuality. Each person in the cast and crew had a personal experience or insight to share, which made for both lively discussion and fascinating revelations.”
The tight-knit cast and in-depth creative process was largely fostered by Angeles. The Barnard sophomore discovered “Next Fall” when her friend gave her new plays to read, and she fell in love with the tales of its six characters.
“I was just exhausted from laughing and crying throughout the entire play. I knew ‘Next Fall’ had to be put on at Columbia, and I was going to do anything I could to be a part of it,” Angeles said.
Dan Garton, CC ’16 and the show’s producer, described Angeles’ directing as the “most hands-on, sink-or-swim, and supportive environment” he has had in his theatrical experience at Columbia. The cast’s ability to garner raw emotions in the generation of these characters reveals that as well, he said.
Adil Habib, CC ’16 and The Eye’s lead story editor, who plays Brandon in the production, acknowledges that not every member of the audience will relate to the central frictions that torment Luke and Adam. Regardless, he said, “There are plenty of moments that resonate with all of us.”
“Next Fall” will in the Lerner Black Box Theater at 8 p.m. on April 10, 11, and 12.