Patrick Heusinger and Patrick Breen in Next Fall
(© Carol Rosegg)
Patrick Heusinger and Patrick Breen in Next Fall
(© Carol Rosegg)
A gay man being forced to deal with the homophobic parents of his devoutly Christian partner is the subject of Geoffrey Naufft's Next Fall, currently being presented by Naked Angels at Playwrights Horizon's Peter Jay Sharp Theater under Sheryl Kaller's direction. Despite some emotionally potent moments in its second act, the play's effectiveness is limited by its tendency toward superficial, sitcom-ready dialogue and not especially convincing situations.

The play begins in a hospital waiting room where Adam (Patrick Breen) has just arrived, devastated to discover that his long-term, considerably younger lover Luke (Patrick Heusinger) has lapsed into a coma after a taxi accident. However, he can't openly express the depth of his grief due to the presence of Luke's homophobic dad Butch (Cotter Smith) and his chatty mom Arlene (Connie Ray), who have no idea that their son is gay, much less who Adam really is.

These hospital scenes -- in which the three keep vigil with friends Holly (Maddie Corman) and Brandon (Sean Dugan) -- alternate with chronological flashbacks to key moments in the men's four-year relationship, most of which revolve around Luke's unshakable Christian faith and its great annoyance for Adam, who doesn't consider himself to be at all religious and who thinks that the idea of a gay Christian is oxymoronic.

The idea that these two could continue a relationship for almost half a decade despite this vast difference in values strains credibility. Further, their conversations --from their first meet cute on a Manhattan rooftop to a heart-to-heart four years later in their apartment -- remain static and one-dimensional; there's no sense conveyed that their dynamic has changed one iota over the years. As a result, the men come off not as fleshed-out characters as much as two walking and talking sets of opposing beliefs. (The situation is not helped by the pronounced lack of chemistry between the valiant actors.)

In one of the lengthiest flashback scenes, Luke's dad drops by the guys' apartment on short notice, causing Luke to scramble in a panic to "de-gay" the place. The scene makes it a challenge to root for the couple: Luke selfishly expects Adam to be okay with making himself scarce, and Adam selfishly responds by staying put and throwing a hissy fit. Moreover, once Luke's dad arrives at the apartment -- a "swanky" bachelor pad that is apparently within the financial reach of the two candle shop clerks -- any hope is dashed that the playwright is interested in compassion for the dad. Although the playwright has led us to expect the character will be a homophobe due to his religious convictions, he's hedged his bets and also made him a racist who's capable of casually dropping the "N" bomb.

What works best in the play is the relationship between Adam and Arlene; the play's present-day scenes are greatly aided by their interaction and by the depiction of the gradual understanding between them. Ray has the play's best moments and, melodramatic as they are, she brings a dignity and a truthfulness to them. The other supporting cast members are not so lucky: Corman's character -- who owns the candle shop where the boys work -- may as well be called Sounding Board, while Dugan ably employs stillness in his one scene of substance as Luke's estranged friend, but the role doesn't amount to enough.