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Next Fall

Geoffrey Nauffts' frustrating and problematic play about an unusual gay relationship gets a top-notch Broadway production. logo
Maddie Corman, Patrick Breen, and Patrick Heusinger
in Next Fall
(© Carol Rosegg)
An atheistic gay man is forced to deal with the homophobic parents of his fundamentalist Christian partner in Geoffrey Nauffts' Next Fall, currently at The Helen Hayes Theatre following a successful Off-Broadway run. Under Sheryl Kaller's direction, the dramedy has been given a crisp, top-notch production, but, despite some emotionally potent moments and occasional flashes of thematic interest, the play is frustratingly superficial from yuk-filled start to tearjerker finish.

The play begins in a hospital waiting room where Adam (Patrick Breen) learns 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, pill-addled mom Arlene (Connie Ray), who have no idea that their son is gay, much less that Adam is his significant other. The depiction of the exclusion of a gay man from his partner's bedside has immediate emotional resonance, despite the playwright's compulsion to have just about every character talk in wisecracks.

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 pair's four-year relationship, most of which revolve around Luke's unshakable fundamentalist Christian faith and its great annoyance for Adam. The men's opposing belief systems create conflict throughout their relationship, but the playwright, seemingly by design, cuts short any real conversation and debate about matters of faith.

The play's most provocative exchange comes when Luke concedes that Matthew Shepard's killers would go to heaven if they believed in Christ, but Shepard would not if he didn't. The conversation ends with Luke changing the subject, which seems more the playwright's attempt to sustain conflict than believable, sympathetic character behavior. Since Luke can't articulate his beliefs, we never learn why he chooses to ascribe to a belief system that demonizes him and compels him to pray for forgiveness after sex.

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 that evolve between them. Ray has the play's best moments and she brings a dignity and a truthfulness to them. Some of Breen's line readings seem a bit too flat, but he deserves credit for reserve when it most counts.

As the homophobic (and, too-conveniently also racist) dad, Smith does fine, detailed work. The other supporting cast members are not so lucky. Corman's character -- who owns the candle shop where the boys work -- is a bland functionary and there's not much the actress can do. Meanwhile, Dugan ably employs stillness in his one scene of substance as Luke's estranged friend, but his role doesn't amount to enough.

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