March 28 2012 12:00 AM

Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. rises to the challenge of the emotionally charged drama 'Next Fall'


What if a pill could remove all of your worries about the meaning of your life and ultimate death? Would you take it?

This isn´t science-fiction. It´s a question of faith that drives the core conflict between the two lead characters in the Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. production of “Next Fall.” In Geoffrey Nauffts´ script, the rhetorical debate pits spiritual certainty against science on a personal level.

When a young-ish evangelical Christian man named Luke (Russ Jameson) falls in love with an older atheist, Adam (Jonas Greenberg), they seem like a match made in, er ... heaven — until they begin to attempt to convert one another. Presented as a series of flashbacks as Adam waits for Luke to wake up from a coma, “Next Fall” tracks the evolutionary marks in their relationship, which is fraught with stubbornness, unwavering ideology and accepted contradictions.

This is Greenberg´s show to carry, and he does not disappoint. With dyed gray hair and wire rim glasses, Greenberg believably portrays a character at least 10 years older than himself. Adam´s verbal pessimism regarding his future at times conjures up a neurotic Woody Allen character minus the Manhattan dialect. But where Allen finds solace in his psychoanalytical ruminations, Adam does not.

If Adam is a caustic cynic, Luke is a sweet idealist. Certain in his convictions yet realistically insecure, Lucas provides a persuasive counterweight to Adam´s persistent pokes. Jameson genuinely portrays the inner struggle of a man comfortably living “out” among his friends who continues to cower to the more conservative expectations of his parents.

Brad Rutledge, as Luke´s father, Butch, evokes the necessary fear as an imposing man who wields unknowing influence over his grown son. Rutledge helps generate the suspense in the scene where he drops in on Adam and Luke´s apartment without notice and Luke frantically rearranges the space to hide his true colors.

Arlene, Butch´s ex-wife and Luke´s biological mother, comes to life courtesy of Lela Ivey. Ivey utilizes her hilarious dialogue layered in a sauce of Southern sass like a practiced illusionist, employing comic timing so skillfully executed that you forget you´re watching a character. Ivey continues to work her magic in the second act as Arlene reminisces about Luke´s younger days with motherly pride in a scene that draws real audience tears.

Shannon Rafferty, as Adam´s close friend Holly, provides an honest and funny delivery that elevates her character above the usual sounding board.

Only Luke´s long-time friend Brandon, played by Michael Banghart, feels virtually inconsequential. It´s not Banghart´s fault that Brandon is barely introduced until the show´s second half, but Banghart´s stagey emotions do not provide Brandon with much authenticity.

The character and story arcs certainly have more symbolic undertones that directer Chad Badgero mercifully avoids. The result is a balanced debate that leaves plenty of room for moral and theological discussion after the show.

‘Next Fall’
Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.

Creole Gallery

1218 Turner St., Lansing

8 p.m Thursday, March 29, Friday, March 30 and Saturday, March 31
$15; $10 students and seniors

(517) 372-0945