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Gay Romance & Christian Faith Explored in "Next Fall"

The New York Times called Next Fall, "The funniest heartbreaker in town!”

Matthew Wilson agrees.

Opening Friday at Falcon Theatre in Newport, Wilson plays one half of a contemporary gay couple. They’ve been together for five years and like every other couple in love, they have a lot of small issues – Adam is older; Luke is domestic but also driven as he pursues an acting career while writer Adam is neither; and Luke’s far-away family doesn’t know he’s gay.

And they have one soul-deep issue: Luke believes in God, Adam believes in everything but.

Wilson is Luke, and Next Fall is “absolutely a must-do” for him. He read the script in 2013, about the time he was performing in a show at the Covedale Center with Falcon’s Tracy Schoster and Tara Williams (Schoster co-stars and Williams directs Next Fall). He brought them the script for consideration and kept his eyes on upcoming Falcon seasons.

“I love that the show is about a pretty average gay couple and they are struggling with issues other than coming out or AIDS," he said. "It is great to see other stories from the LGBT community being told. “ 

These days Wilson is a solidly booked director (mostly at the Covedale and Federal Incline theaters). When he has a rare window of time, “I don't like to fill it just to fill it. I tend to be attracted to roles and shows that are going to be a challenge, that the experience will better me as an actor in some way.”

He is “so thankful the stars aligned” and the play switched places in Falcon’s season line-up to the only slot when he was available.

The thing is, “This doesn't feel like a play about religion to me,” Wilson says. “It just uses it as a device to ask if there are issues that couples can't overcome no matter how much they love each other. I find that much more interesting, and honestly refreshing.”  

Next Fall debuted in New York seven years ago and, Wilson says, “I don't think a day has passed since the Obergefell ruling that I haven't read or heard about some battle being waged in the war between LGBT rights vs. religious liberty. But what is really fascinating about Next Fall is it examines that issue from a completely different perspective.  It is not about militant activists on either side battling it out. 

“It is about that struggle within one person. Luke has to find a way to reconcile these two defining attributes of himself. He is unwilling to sacrifice one for the other. I don't think you hear a lot about that in the media, but I think it speaks to the human experience and how we all struggle, often silently, with things like this.”

The play is funny and it is a heart-breaker. Talking about reconciling the two, Wilson hears Dolly Parton in Steel Magnolias in the back of his mind. “Laughter through tears is one of my favorite emotions."

“The juxtaposition of humor with some of the intense feelings all of these characters are experiencing is what makes the play feel so genuine to me. All of the humor comes from a very real place. Adam uses humor as a defense mechanism. I do that myself. Arlene (Schoster’s character) has no filter. I know a lot of people like that.  (Playwright) Geoffrey Nauffts uses humor as a way to flesh out relationships, especially between Luke and Adam. I love how their humor and rapport with each other changes over the many years of their relationship.”

Wilson wants audiences to be talking about Next Fall when they leave the theater. Hopefully for a long time after. “There are so many issues raised in this play it can be the fuel for a lot of conversations.  

“I don't feel the show preaches at all. It doesn't try to end the conversation at all. This is definitely a play with things to say and I hope people, no matter what their current thoughts or beliefs in regards to LGBT issues or religion, keep themselves open to hear them.” 

Cast: Next Fall features Matt Wilson and Brian Anderson as gay couple Luke and Adam; Tracy Schoster and Allen Middleton as Luke's divorced parents, Arlene and Butch; and Lauren Carr and Michael Monks (editor of The River City News) as a friend and former friend of the couple, Holly and Brandon. 

Next Fall, May 6-21. Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Tickets $20, students $15. (Service fee for online orders.) 513-479-6783 and here.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

Photo: Brian Anderson (left) and Matt Wilson (by Mikki Schaffner/provided)

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