I read Geoffrey Naufft's NEXT FALL when I was on the Pulitzer Prize drama jury. At the time, I was lukewarm about the script. The hospital scenes seemed like television drama and I couldn't see how the couple at the center of the play had stayed together for four years. Seeing the very good production at Actor's Express convinced me that half of the play is fascinating.
At the heart of the play is the relationship of Adam, a highly neurotic forty-year-old hypochondriac, and Luke, a young actor/caterwaiter. They meet at a party when Luke helps Adam through an anxiety attack. Luke, a fundamentalist Christian, sees Adam as someone to save. Adam, sees Luke as a sexy young man who has some strange ideas (the rapture, for instance). Adam's feeling about Luke's religion grows from skepticism, to malice to jealousy of Luke's love for Christ. Adam may be right that Luke has to be honest with his family, but he can be downright nasty and Luke's acceptance of Adam's cruelty seems masochistic. Luke is all forbearance. Perhaps he sees Adam's cruelty as just punishment for his love of another man. I was convinced by Naufft's depiction of this odd couple and by some of the ancillary characters, particularly Luke's old friend Brandon, whose religion will not let him accept Luke's love for Adam. Occasional sin followed by atonement is one thing, but for Brandon, Luke has "moved the line" in an unacceptable way.
The play alternates scenes of the history of Luke and Adam's relationship with hospital scenes that follow the horrible accident that Luke experiences. Here Adam must deal with Luke's parents who have control of the situation -- Nauffts never explains why Luke and Adam have not gotten Health Care Power of Attorney -- a must for gay couples. Also there are Brandon and a self-confessed "fag hag" friend. Luke's father is stolid and bigoted, like fathers of gay men in 1980s made for tv movies. His biological mother (she and Luke's father are divorced) is a pill-popping eccentric who, of course comes to be kind to Adam. There scenes put us in all-too-familiar territory.
So half of an interesting play.
Kate Warner's production was effective, though once again there were too many long scene breaks that could have been simplified. Mitchell Anderson captured Adam's bitchiness but not his vulnerability. I'm sorry I didn't see Patrick Breen pay it in New York. Joe Sykes seemed perfect as Luke -- tough in his own way, compassionate (unusual for a fundamentalist Christian) and totally decent, if unable to see the logical holes in his theology. The supportive cast was all that one could ask. I was happy to see 3/4 staging instead of the usual seating arrangement.
NEXT FALL isn't the best gay drama in recent years, but it is something of a crowd pleaser.
NEXT FALL. Actor's Express Atlanta, January 27, 2012.