’Next Fall’ a Personal Collaboration for Actor and Director
Actor Kendall Hodder and director Russell Greene have been theatrical collaborators for an awfully long time.
"Russell and I met at the Turtle Lane Playhouse in Auburndale - what? - a hundred years ago," said Kendall. The production was "Guys and Dolls." "Russell was Nathan Detroit and I was his Benny Southstreet," he continued. "So we got to play together a lot."
Since then, each of these men in his own way has made a life of creating theatre, sometimes professional, but mostly community theatre, in the abundant playhouses outside Boston but inside (more or less) the 128 Beltway.
"I'm surprised at how many talented people have chosen not to make theatre their profession, but keep it their passionate hobby instead," said Russell.
The men joined me on a conference call just before a dress rehearsal of their latest project, the Hovey Players production of Geoffrey Nauffts' "Next Fall." From what we discussed, this production may be the pair's most profound and personal to date.
"I instantly fell in love with the script," said Russell. "I have some shared experiences with some of the characters in the show, so it touched on a lot of personal history. Coupled with the fantastic writing."
In turn Kendall said, "I've never played a role that's so similar to me."
In this play, Adam and Luke are a long-term couple who have very different ideas about faith, God and salvation. But a tragic accident causes their community of family and friends to put their most deeply held beliefs to the test.
Though Adam's one-night stand with Luke turns into a committed, five-year relationship, he can never quite get his head around the faith to which Luke devotes himself, Christianity. There seems to be so much duplicity and unfairness in the choice of who gets saved and who goes to Hell.
"Luke is not naïve," said Russell. "He has genuine faith. I actually give Luke a lot of credit."
Though Adam adores Luke, he can't turn a blind eye to the way his partner believes.
"I'm assuming sin is sin," asks Adam in the play. "If your sin is having sex with men, and my sin is - let's say - killing men who have sex with men, then as long as I've accepted Christ as my savior I'll go to heaven with you?"
This doesn't mean they don't have great sex. But Luke justifies the behavior. He says, "We're all sinners Adam. This one just happens to be mine."
"Then how come you continue to sin?" Adam says, feeling that Luke's atonement and repentance invalidates their relationship. "I mean don't get me wrong that was some amazing sinning we just did. I look forward to more. But you sinned a lot. You sinned more than I did."
"I was hoping we could sin some more after breakfast," says Luke.
"The playwright really seems to understand people," says Russell, "how they think and how they interact, and he's very fair to both sides of the issue. It's a wonderful and powerful play that's very funny along the way."
At the heart of Luke's faith is his profound relationship with his father, Butch. No matter how hard he tries, Luke can't disappoint Butch by telling him about Adam. When he finally commits to coming out "next fall," his plan is interrupted by a fatal car accident.
"My character, Adam, is the non-Christian dating the Christian, Luke," says Kendall. "He has serious doubts, as I do in my life.
"Something that really gets to Adam is that Luke can't come out to his parents. That's an issue he keeps raising. And he can never really get over it."
Adam is deeply committed to Luke and wants to speak openly about their relationship, but he also respects that Luke has never come out to his family. The tension to voice this apparent, but unspoken, secret permeates every conversation between Adam and his partner’s family, even as Luke, in a coma, can say nothing.
"There’s a scene that starts with Luke in his hospital bed," Kendall continues. "I’m in bed with him. And Luke’s father walks in and sees me in bed with him."
"What’s going on in here?" says Butch. "That’s my son’s hospital bed you’re napping on. I know you’re jet lagged but... If you don’t mind I’d like to be alone with my son."
This is when Adam replies, "I’m not quite done yet."
"I ask for more time," Kendall explains, "alone with Luke. And his father is giving me a hard time."
As family members try to calm Butch down he looks at Adam and says, "Who the heck is this guy? I don’t even know who he is."
"I kind of freak out," says Kendall. "’You don’t know who I am?’
"This scene is where Adam shows his rawest emotion," Kendall explains, "I say, ’I don’t want to play this game anymore.’
And he says, ’What game? I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
And I say, ’You know exactly what I’m talking about!’"
"At his core, Luke’s father is not a stupid man," says Russell. "I think he’s denying what he actually knows."
"At this point in the play," Kendall continues to recall the scene, "I know the end is here. And... I just... ask [Butch] for more time. With Luke. Before basically they take him off life support and donate his organs."
For a moment all of us on the conference call are all silent. There’s nothing but the hissing noise of the speaker phone.
Finally, Kendall goes on, "Just to realize this is the end. You know? It really struck a chord with me that I didn’t quite expect."
"My first partner and I were together for... about 5 years," says Russell. This is the same length of time the couple in "Next Fall" has been together before the accident. "And I remember actually having to come out to my own father on the day my partner passed away. Having to have that conversation on that day was mind boggling."
"Oh. I didn’t know that," says Kendall.
"Yes," Russell responds. "So I actually had to take a half hour away from my final time with John to sit down and have that conversation with my father.
"My father was asking me why I was making all these life decisions for John, when his mother was still around, but John and I had already agreed that I would be speaking for him when he got to that point.
"You couldn’t be married back in ’92, but we considered ourselves married, even though there was no paper to prove it."
"Unlike the character in the play," Kendall clarifies, "John’s was a long illness, so he was around to realize the future and make plans."
"John was sick when we first met," explains Russell. "We didn’t know how long he’d have. It was in the early to mid-days of AIDS; he died of complications due to HIV. Having gone through that experience is why this play rings so true."
"How did your father respond?" I ask.
"We hadn’t been fooling anyone," says Russell, "but he was respectful enough not to press the issue... so New England.
"His response was, ’Thank god, I finally know what to tell people.’ It’s all about negotiations, not only with other people but with ourselves, and in Luke’s case with his God."
Hovey Players Presents
Jan. 17 through Feb. 1
Abbott Memorial Theater on 9 Spring Street in Waltham, MA
For ticket reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (781) 893-9171.