As Next Fall begins, the cast stands on the edge of the dimly lit stage. Suddenly, the discordant sounds of a car crash ring out, and James Sharinghousen reels backward, arms flailing. We learn that Sharinghousen’s character, the starry-eyed Luke, has been hit by a taxi and plunged into a coma. It’s subject matter familiar to Triangle Productions artistic director Don Horn, whose son spent 46 days in a coma after a near-fatal accident eight years ago. Harnessing that personal connection, Horn achieves gripping emotional resonance rather than maudlin excess. It helps that Geoffrey Nauffts’ 2009 play alternates between scenes in the hospital waiting room, where Luke’s family and his partner, Adam (Jason Glick), have gathered, and flashbacks to memories before the accident. The stage is cleverly divided: Luke and Adam’s New York apartment glows with warm colors and promise, while the bleak hospital room breeds tension and frayed nerves. That split structure keeps the characters surprising and frequently funny, as when it’s revealed that Luke’s proper Southern mother (played by Helen Raptis with a delightful mix of Reba McEntire and Paula Deen) once “got busted selling weed with a one-armed beautician from Shreveport.” The script also has fun with the age difference between the 40ish Adam and the 20-something Luke, even if Glick underplays his “aging queen” jokes and Sharinghousen wears needlessly skinny jeans. Ultimately, Nauffts asks big questions with tongue-in-cheek tact. How can two very different people—Luke is a devout Christian and Adam an atheist—make things work? Can their complicated love endure stigma? And what happens when an atheist sees his partner pray for repentance after great sex?
SEE IT: Next Fall is at the Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., 239-5919. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays through April 6. $15-$35.