THEATER REVIEW: Next Fall: Prop 8 in full drama
Luke and Adam have been in a four-year relationship. They met when Luke gave Adam the Heimlich maneuver at a party, and they never separated. Luke, a devout Christian, prays after having sex, because he feels that sinning can be redeemed by a little nod to Heaven. Adam is a devout atheist having never grown up with a religion, although the actor, Patrick Breen, plays his role with a sort of nebbish quality that swells of Jewish apprehension. This pairing may seem all too curious, and their relationship exists not without frantic quarrels, and outbursts of religious sentiment from Luke. It reminds me of another topical play, Baptizing Adam, about which, Bruce Weber states, “promiscuity and religious devotion, rather than antithetical practices, are actually equivalent pursuits, desperate human attempts to solve the loneliness problem.” But in Geoffrey Nauffts new play, Next Fall, along with loneliness comes resentment, regret, and ultimately grief. Luke and Adam are tempestuous yet bound by a sacred unhappiness in the eyes of a non-believer, Adam. Luke has his own demons. He is not “out” to his parents and has been keeping his relationship with Adam a secret.
When Luke suffers a brain hemorrhage and falls into a coma his family is summoned to the hospital in New York City. We meet his friends, Brandon played by Sean Dugan with a soft complexity, and Holly played joyfully by Maddie Corman. Next we meet his frantic mother Arlene who deals out the sharpest comedic jabs and homophobic father not surprisingly named Butch. When Adam arrives the folks see him as just a friend, and when the time comes near the end they are confronted with a friend who means much more to their son than they expected. A shouting match between father and partner ensues, and Luke opens his eyes for a moment to glance on his true love. Connie Ray as Arlene gives a well-rounded performance with a woozy appeal and a special teary-eyed openness. Cotter Smith’s Butch displays a wolf-like candor that feels essential to an All-American hero. And however casually his racist slurs give us an inside look into his character, he falters bravely by his own fear of losing his son.
The sign of the gay movement has triggered an overwhelming shift in popular dynamics. In an age, where Mario Lavendiera can become a celebrity and spokesperson for the gay struggle, it would seem impossible for a grown man to hide such an integral element to his life. What brings this story to understanding are the well-detailed flashbacks. These quirky vignettes follow becoming acquainted with Luke, hanging out with Dad, living with Adam, and finding love in a city full of possibilities.
In his defense, this is not a preachy play about the path to enlightenment but a touching portrait of a family struggle in need of change. However, Naufft’s story doesn’t quite earn the respect that it is searching for. Mainly, due to the unbelievable circumstances that surround these two different ideologies yearning to find a home together. Complemented with a sticky pop-infused dialogue that uses rude humor and trite cultural references to get a laugh. It is also unfortunate that the two lead actors Patrick Breen as Adam and Patrick Heusinger as Luke have little or no chemistry onstage. Luckily, Sheryl Kaller’s direction is quickly paced with a strong, lean set designed by Wilson Chin. Jeff Coiter’s lighting plays around with flashback mistiness.
In its current presentation at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, Next Fall, seems to be at the mercy of the melodramatic tendencies that overcome such poignant scenes. While the arguments of religion and homosexuality demand serious attention, we are tempted with only superficial watermarks that don’t have much to fall back on.