nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 2, 2009
Geoffrey Nauffts's new play Next Fall begins in the waiting room at a Jewish New York hospital. (I have no idea why the fact that it's a Jewish hospital is important; Nauffts includes references to Judaism throughout the play, rather perplexingly, since none of the characters in the play is a Jew. But I get ahead of myself.)
A young man, Luke, has had an accident and is in a coma. Waiting for him are Holly, who we soon discover owns the candle/gift shop where Luke works; Brandon, a well-dressed businessman who "followed Luke from Washington" (and that's about all we know about Brandon until well into Act Two); and Arlene, a gregarious woman from Florida who is Luke's mother (though we will learn that she didn't raise him on account of that jail time she did for selling marijuana). Later, they are joined by Butch, Luke's father (who has been married to the woman who did raise Luke for about 20 years); all we ever really find out about him is that he's a fundamentalist Christian. Finally, there's Adam, who flies in from an undisclosed faraway place; he is Luke's lover. Arlene and Butch have no inkling, apparently, that Luke is even gay, and do not know who Adam is.
I don't know about you, but I just didn't buy it. All through Act Two I kept wondering where Lynn, Butch's beloved wife, was; why Holly could afford to stay away from her business all day long (nothing in the play suggests that she and Luke are particularly close); or, most importantly, why Butch and Arlene would unquestioningly allow these three strangers whose connections to Luke are never clearly explained to them to hang around the hospital while their son is fighting for his life.
But this is only part of what makes Next Fall so implausible. Though the press release alludes to Proposition 8 (and made me think going in that the play would deal with the issue of whether Adam or Butch would ultimately be allowed to make decisions for the comatose Luke), the main idea of Next Fall is that Adam is an atheist or agnostic while Luke is a Christian who believes that because he accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior that he is going to heaven, notwithstanding the fact that he is a major sinner on account of his sleeping with men all the time. Now I've known many fundamentalist Christians in my time, and also many gay men, but I've never known an "out" gay man in a committed relationship who clings as fervently or blindly to his religion as Luke does, nor do I know of a fundamentalist religion of any stripe that embraces homosexuality in the way that Luke seems to think his does. So all of this felt highly unconvincing to me, as did the notion that Adam and Luke have been together for four years despite the fact that in every single scene in the play Adam complains bitterly about and/or makes fun of Luke's fundamentalist beliefs.
Now, notwithstanding all of the above, Next Fall actually manages to hold the attention and entertain in its out-of-whack sitcom-y way. All of the actors do excellent work with the material, even Sean Dugan as the too-enigmatic Brandon and Maddie Corman as the obligatory self-described "fag hag" Holly. Connie Ray has a field day as the anything-Nauffts-needs-her-to-be-at-the-moment Arlene, going broadly over the top in some scenes and tugging at the heartstrings in others. Patrick Heusinger is appealing as Luke and Patrick Breen delivers just what's expected as the wound-too-tight Adam, though they don't display much in the way of sparks when they're together. The finest performance comes from Cotter Smith, as Butch, making a man I was prepared to dislike into the most sympathetic character in the play.
Sheryl Kaller's staging is efficient, but the stage waits during the scene changes felt longer than optimal; Wilson Chin's set may be busier than the play really requires. Other design elements serve the piece well. Indeed, Next Fall is very nicely produced; I just wish that the play itself had something clear and compelling to say.