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Originally published March 15, 2013 at 3:55 PM | Page modified March 15, 2013 at 3:54 PM

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‘Next Fall’ a skillful blend of wit, drama and family

A review of “Next Fall” at ArtsWest, a production full of moving moments, writes critic John Hartl. Through April 6, 2013.

Special to The Seattle Times

THEATER REVIEW

‘Next Fall’

By Geoffrey Nauffts. Runs through April 6 at ArtsWest Playhouse, 4711 California Ave. S.W., Seattle; $10-$34.50 (206-938-0339 or www.artswest.org).

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There are several moving moments in the ArtsWest of West Seattle production of Geoffrey Nauffts’ recent Broadway play, “Next Fall.” But perhaps the most surprising is a scene in which a homophobic father praises his closeted son for revealing his potential as an actor.

Luke struck out at law school and his father had always suggested that he was disappointed by the son’s career choices. But for this moment they’ve found mutual fulfillment. The connection is complete, the father finally acknowledges his pride in his child. And of course the touch of bliss can’t last.

Without knowing what he’s done, the father simply shatters his chance at a connection with his son by spilling out one hurtful, bullying word.

It’s so easy to let it out and leave it hanging there in the air — so demeaning and unnecessary — and the actors nail the brutal impact of it

John Wray plays the oblivious father, Butch, and David Elwyn Traylor is the Christian son, Luke, whose face collapses in slow motion as Butch utters the dreaded insult. Christopher Zinovitch is just as effective as Luke’s neurotic atheist lover, Adam, who can’t abide Luke’s twisted justifications for “sinning” with him.

Further complicating matters are Luke’s brassily philosophical mother, Arlene (Patricia Haines-Ainsworth); a “Will and Grace”-style friend, Holly (Kate Witt); and Luke’s supportive but very secretive pal, Brandon (Daniel Stoltenberg).

“Next Fall” begins with a traffic accident that leaves Luke in a coma. Friends and relatives gather at a hospital where they discuss their attempts to create families outside of families, the meaning of life — and sex and death.

They even recite a boiled-down version of the famous graveyard scene from Thornton Wilder’s classic drama, “Our Town.”

You may not think the Wilder quote is dramatically justified (shouldn’t the playwright provide his own words?). But it rarely leaves a dry eye in the house in Wilder’s original version, and it shatters again in this altered form.

Nauffts has written for ABC’s “Brothers and Sisters,” and other TV series. He’s awfully good at blending wit and drama and making the most of a limited budget (small cast, modest set requirements). The play runs well over two hours, but it never feels talky or long.

Cindy Bradder, who directed “Next Fall,” has cast the piece so well that it’s no mystery why it was a 2010 Tony Award nominee for best new play, despite its short Broadway run. (It lost to John Logan’s “Red”). This production marks its Northwest debut.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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