Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Next Fall

"Next Fall" at The Helen Hayes Theatre, February 20, 2010

(Photo: Francesco Carrozzini)

Transferring from an Off-Broadway run last summer, Geoffrey Nauffts' play is a touching and provocative story of religion and homosexuality.

Working back and forth in time, we learn the tale of how Adam (Patrick Breen) and Luke (Patrick Heusinger) met, fell in love and struggled to work through the issues of Adam's agnosticism versus Luke's Christian faith.  Since that's not enough, Adam is also roughly 20 years older than Luke, though emotionally they are much closer in age.

As the play opens, Luke has been hit by a car and is hospitalized in a coma.  His divorced parents Arlene (Connie Ray) and Butch (Cotter Smith) have arrived along with Luke's boss Holly (Maddie Corman) and college friend Brandon (Sean Dugan).  Adam arrives late, having been out of town for a class reunion.

Arlene and Buddy have instilled their faith in Luke, and still carry it openly, increasing the tension when Adam expresses his secular beliefs.

Mr. Nauffts has written a very intelligent story that actually manages to explore the issues of faith and science.  Both sides get full measure to present their respective cases.  The heart of the problem between Adam and Luke is that Adam doesn't understand why Luke can't see the missing logic of faith, where Luke doesn't understand why Adam can't take the leap and believe.  During one of their arguments, Adam accuses Luke of loving God more than him.  Luke doesn't respond.  Without spoiling it, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by the choice in the final scene.

Don't be mistaken, as somber as this may sound, there are plenty of laughs to be found.  Mr. Nauffts has assembled a slew of one-liners and quips that keep the audience bright.  While the parents are out of the room, Adam, Holly and Brandon are discussing how to handle his relationship with Luke, who hasn't come out to his family yet.  Adam says, "You don't see me in a thong on a float, but I'm still a fag!" 

Having seen The Boys in the Band within a few days of this show, it was interesting to see how the openly vicious self-hatred of that story has modulated only a little into a more quiet version. This is noted particularly in the character of Brandon, who can hardly bring himself to say out loud that he's only attracted to black men.  Luke suffers similarly, praying for forgiveness after each time he and Adam are intimate.  Luke is also afraid of his family's rejection, specifically that his father will cut him off from contact with his little brother.  "Next fall" he says, "that's when he'll be off to college, and I'll tell them then. He'll be old enough to decide for himself."

In Arlene, Ms. Ray has managed to take hold of a Julie White character and truly make it her own. Arlene was a confused and unprepared young mother who ended up in prison for marijuana, leaving the care of Luke to his father, who remarried shortly thereafter and had another son.  Ms. Ray enters like a tornado and takes control in a touching yet hilarious performance.  Mr. Cotter's Butch is a father in denial, both of his son's sexual orientation and the severity of his condition.  His emotion is palpable during a climactic scene in Act II.

Mr. Heusinger's Luke is earnest, hopeful and occasionally callow - appropriate for a young man who dropped out of law school to move to NYC to chase an acting dream.  Mr. Breen's Adam does most of the heavy lifting in the play, balancing the feelings of Luke's family and friends against his own.  When he's told he can't see Luke in ICU because he's not "family," you can see his heart drop in his chest. Ms. Corman, and Mr. Dugan get little to do, more than sit around suffering supportively over Luke.

Wilson Chin's set flexes easily into the various locations, hospital waiting room, Adam's apartment, a bench in the park, all service-ably lit by Jeff Croiter.

This is a powerful and emotional play, beautifully written, directed and acted. It's another one not to be missed. 

It got a rare standing ovation from me. 

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