The gay-themed “Next Fall,” which opens Jan. 12 at Actor’s Express, reunites two artists who haven’t been as active recently in the local theater scene as we might like: out director Kate Warner and out actor Mitchell Anderson.
On Broadway, the drama – co-produced by Elton John and his partner, David Furnish — was nominated for a 2010 Tony Award for Best Play, after much success off-Broadway a year earlier.
The play centers around the relationship between twentysomething Luke (Joe Sykes) and the older Adam (Mitchell Anderson), who is 40. From a religious standpoint, they are completely different. Luke is a fundamentalist Christian and Adam is something of an agnostic.
When an accident occurs, Adam must meet and confront Luke’s very conservative (and divorced) parents, Arlene and Butch (Patricia French and Bill Murphey).
Warner moved to Boston from Atlanta a few years ago to take over as artistic director at New Rep Theatre. She was with the company for more than two years and is now freelancing. She is eager to stage “Next Fall.”
“We tried to get it in Boston this season but another company got it,” Warner says. “We were bidding on it. It’s a well-crafted play.”
When she got a call from Actor’s Express last spring about directing it, she happily agreed.
To Warner, the play is anything but a typical coming out story.
“It’s a relationship play, very post modern,” she says. “Luke has always been conflicted with his sexuality. He is a born again Christian. Religion plays a very big role in the play. Neither point of view is characterized or demonized.
“Adam loves his boyfriend but can’t reconcile his faith and it’s a problem for him. (Eventually) Adam and Luke’s family have to come together.”
Much of the play is told in flashback.
“We meet Luke that way,” Warner says. “Luke has never been out, and his parents don’t know about the relationship.”
She feels “Next Fall” provokes lots of discussion. “People tend to have reactions to these people’s actions and want to have conversations afterward,” she says.
“When you are in a situation in an ICU where you have to make decisions, what would you do? You think you might know but don’t.”
Warner’s last show at the Express was “Octopus,” which also starred Anderson, Sykes and John Benzinger, who’s featured here as Brandon, a friend of Luke’s who is also discreetly gay.
Anderson is very good friends with the playwright, Geoffrey Nauffts.
“I’ve known him since 1987; we went to LA together,” he says. “He told me that if the show ever opened in Atlanta I should try and be a part of it.”
When Anderson found out that the Express was staging it, he called Artistic Director Freddie Ashley about being involved. “This was a neat opportunity to get back,” he says. “It’s a beautiful play and I see so much of Geoffrey in it, his interjections.”
Anderson admits, though, that this does not represent a return to acting. Running his restaurant, MetroFresh, is his full-time job, he says.
Anderson says Adam is a writer but not a successful one, so he works in a candle shop. When he meets the conservative Luke – who asks for forgiveness after he has sex – he is a little skeptical, but they figure out how to make it work.
The actor is particularly excited about working with Warner again. “Kate is delightful,” he says. “She is a calm influence who can take big ideas and make then work practically.”
Top photo: Mitchell Anderson stars in ‘Next Fall,’ which explores religion and coming out through the relationship between Anderson’s character, Adam, and a younger, fundamentalist Christian man. (via Facebook)