Religion, homosexuality, divorce, drugs, bigotry — you name a hot-button issue and Geoffrey Nauffts has corralled it into a curiously well-appointed hospital waiting room, the crisis-center setting of his quietly daring new drama, Next Fall (opening on Broadway after a successful Off Broadway run last year).
Nauffts — an actor and artistic director of Off Broadway’s Naked Angels theater company — may be a first-time playwright, but he’s smart enough to know that nothing draws in an audience (or draws out a character) like a life-threatening situation. Luke (Patrick Heusinger) has fallen into an off-stage coma after being hit by an uninsured immigrant cab driver in New York City. Enter his homophobic, Bible-quoting father Butch (Cotter Smith), flighty mom Arlene (Connie Ray), fag hag pal Holly (Maddie Corman), self-hating homo friend Brandon (Sean Dugan), and — uh oh! — live-in boyfriend Adam (Patrick Breen). Need we mention that Luke hasn’t told his parents about Adam?
We witness the development of the couple’s relationship through a series of cleverly constructed flashbacks: the meet-cute (cater waiter Luke gives candle salesman Adam the Heimlich at Holly’s Overeaters Anonymous party); a morning-after breakfast (eggs and ”fierce!” tomatoes); move-in day (Adam persuades Luke to leave the mezuzah on their door: ”It keeps evil spirits out of New York apartments”); and Butch’s surprise visit (hint: When you want to ”degay” your apartment, hide the Tinky Winky doll).
Yet it’s not all pumpkin-scented, votive-lit bliss: Luke is deeply, seriously, happily Christian; Adam is blatantly, boldly atheist. At first, the gravity of Luke’s faith is simply confusing to his partner (Adam: ”You’re gay though, right?” Luke: ”Uh…whose lips do you think you’ve been mackin’ on all night?”). Then, it becomes the butt of Adam’s jokes: ”He really believes…that people are gonna just start floating up to heaven. That, like, Doc Severinsen, or some other dead trumpeter is gonna blow his horn three times…” And finally it becomes competition, as Adam asks Luke to make an impossible choice: ”I want you to love me more than Him.”
Faith, in its various permutations, becomes almost another character in the play — intellectualized, deconstructed, justified, mocked, defended, derided, and affirmed by every one on stage. And somehow Next Fall never passes judgment. (Adam the atheist is, however, painted in rather unsympathetic shades; poor Breen ekes out a few moments of likeability between the overarching schmuckiness.) ”Who cares what the rest of us think?” asks the ashram-attending, meditation-practicing yogini Holly. ”Look within.” Don’t be surprised if you find yourself doing the same. A-
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800.432.7250)