Faithfully Yours

Religious beliefs have caused relationship turmoil for thousands of years. Whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or Samartitanism, interfaith relationships have crosses to bear. In Geoffrey Nauffts’ play “Next Fall,” two gay men in a committed relationship — Adam, an atheist, and Luke, a devout believer in God — remain strong through their five years together, despite their differences.

The play, which opened Off-Broadway in 2009 and debuts locally next week in a production by The 5 & Dime theater group, deals with themes of religion, homosexuality, coping and loss. Jacksonville native Kevin Roberts will play Adam, the lead. The 45-year-old San Marco resident isn’t new to the local theater scene. Most recently, he played the sociopathic Irishman, Coleman Connor, on Players by the Sea’s stage in Martin McDonagh’s black comedy, “The Lonesome West.”

Folio Weekly spoke to Roberts about his preparation for the role and getting “real” onstage.

Folio Weekly: How did you prepare for the part of Adam?

Kevin Roberts: Initially, I thought it would be very easy to prepare for this role. On the surface, Adam and I share a great many personality traits. However, as we delved further into the rehearsal process, I realized that Adam was considerably more complex than I’d given him credit for. The basic premise of “Next Fall” is about an atheist [Adam] in a relationship with a Christian [Luke]. My greatest challenge was finding a balance between making Adam a real person with a good heart who is skeptical about Luke’s beliefs, versus portraying him as a dyed-in-the-wool iconoclast. It would be very easy to go for the stereotypical. I see Adam as a pessimist who wants to believe in something but simply isn’t equipped to do so. Luke, on the other hand, is the eternal optimist. As a person, I am probably a hybrid of both Adam and Luke. In the script, the playwright has included an anonymous quote in the preface, which I find appropriate to the journey all of the characters are taking: “No one’s the devil here. We’re all just trying to get along.”

F.W.: Were you familiar with the play before director Staci Cobb Grant chose it?

K.R.: I’m an avid reader of plays and I first read “Next Fall” about a year ago. I found myself in tears by the time I finished it.

F.W.: This is your debut with The 5 & Dime. How does it compare to other theaters or groups you’ve worked with in the area?

K.R.: I have a wonderful relationship with many theater groups in the community, but considering that The 5 & Dime is still in its infancy, as the first anniversary approaches, they have managed to knock each subsequent production they’ve staged out of the park. I am honored and humbled to be a part of their success story.

F.W.: Was there talk about steering clear of producing a “gay” play?

K.R.: While we share the same sexual orientation, Adam and Luke, and myself included, are very different individuals. I wouldn’t classify “Next Fall” as a “gay” play or a “message” play. Early in the rehearsal process, we spent a great deal of time talking about the piece and how it relates to all of us as a cast. Our director, Staci Cobb Grant, put it perfectly: This is a love story about two people with very different viewpoints, and something occurs that tests their love and faith. The love story just happens to be about two men.

F.W.: Anderson Cooper just came out. Any thoughts?

K.R.: I haven’t been this shocked since Ricky Martin came out. Honestly, I think the only surprising thing is that he didn’t come

out sooner.

F.W.: Where would you like acting to take you in the next five to 10 years?

K.R.: I cut my teeth on playing comedic character roles when I was younger, which were a great deal of fun. Adam is the “realest” and most honest character I’ve ever played, which is actually quite terrifying to the actor in me. If I can pull this off, the sky’s the limit.

F.W.: In what ways is Adam the “realest” role for you?

K.R.: He is funny, he’s insecure, he’s a nurturer. He is sensitive and sometimes a little too self-involved. I sometimes feel that I’m playing myself — only with better lighting.

Kara Pound

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The 5 & Dime, A Theatre Company presents the Northeast Florida premiere of Geoffrey Nauffts’ “Next Fall” at 8 p.m. on July 20, 21, 27 and 28 and at 2 p.m. on July 29. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door. At press time, a venue had not been confirmed. For location and ticket information, go to the5anddime.