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A CurtainUp Review
Next Fall

Next Fall On Broadway

You're like an animal in a trap trying to gnaw your own leg off.— Adam, as he watches Luke desperately trying to "de-gay" their apartment in anticipation of his father's unanticipated visit. Though Luke does want to get out of the trap that keeps him from coming out to his father, it remains a next fall I'll do it resolution.

Next Fall
Patrick Heusinger as Luke & Patrick Breen as Adam
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Remember the Gilbert and Sullivan refrain about things never being what they seem and skim milk masquerading as cream? Well, Geoffrey Nauffts' Next Fall starts off appearing to be an interesting but somewhat facile comedy about a gay couple's various incompatibilities. Despite a heavyweight situation — a serious accident — that assembles the victim's nearest and dearest in a hospital waiting room, the smart repartee suggests that grim as this setting is, it's a variation of the drawing room associated with light comedies.

Nauffts' play is indeed buoyed by a good deal of laughter but it ultimately takes you completely out of yourself and leaves even the most hardened theater goer with a tight throat and a knot in the stomach. It certainly had that effect on me.

While the central plot situation revolves around the conflict filled romance of two gay men, their main problem being the issue of religious faith, Next Fall, unlike the gay-themed plays dominating this season's theatrical landscape, speaks to the big issue of how we all, regardless of sexual orientation, deal with death. But even this big, genre transcending theme, wouldn't be enough to move a play to Broadway without a big name cast, author or director if the characters and their problems weren't so compellingly dramatized by the author and poignantly interpreted by these actors.

Mr. Nauffts not only juggles all the issue mentioned in Elizabeth Ahlfors' review of the original production, but never allows them to drift into debate. He has you sympathizing with even the characters you may feel most out of synch with and makes you suspend the credibility stretching aspects of the aptly named Adam (Patrick Breen) and Luke's (Patrick Heusinger) staying together despite their vast personality differences or paying the rent on an upscale apartment. The wrenching scene that has the gruff but pious Butch's (Cotter Smith) literal and metaphoric fall from grace and the non-believing Adam breaking that fall evokes a painterly image that takes your breath away. By grabbing you by the heart strings and leaving it up to you to interpret the powerhouse ending, Mr. Nauffts achieves what all good theater does: It leaves viewers thinking and talking about the play long after they've left the theater.

Fortunately the play has moved with the outstanding cast intact, and Sheryl Kaller on hand to see that the shifts from present to past and from the hospital room to various other locales are as fluid at the Helen Hayes as they were at the smaller original venue. Therefore Elizabeth Ahlfors' excellent review is reposted below to fill you in on plot, character and performance details. Original Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Whether the tricky economics of Broadway theater will enable this play to enjoy the success it deserves, is as much an unanswered question as how Adam ends up on the belief issue. Hopefully, the August Osage factor (an original play that did succeed despite elements to the contrary) will kick in.

Production Notes
Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts
Directed by Sheryl Kaller

Patrick Breen (Adam), Maddie Corman (Holly), Sean Dugan (Brandon), Patrick Heusinger (Luke), Connie Ray (Arlene), and Cotter Smith (Butch).
Sets: Wilson Chin
Costumes: Jess Goldstein
Lighting: Jeff Croiter
Original Music and sound by John Gromada
Stage Manager: Charles Means Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, including intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at March 6th press matinee
Closing 7/04/10F after 26 previews and 132 regular performances. Original Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

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Original Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. —-1 Corinthians 15:52

  No one's the devil, here. We're all just trying to get along. —Anonymous
They say people should never discuss religion or money in polite company.  Let's assume then, that theater people are not polite because Geoffrey Nauffts, playwright and Artistic Director of the Naked Angels  company, has grabbed a handful of those tread-carefully hot spots and given them a good shake.  Besides   heaven, hell, God, Jesus and  atheism,  he's taken on  the Bible, Rapture, salvation and Judgment Day.   For good measure,  he's also tossed  in, omigod, a gay relationship.  

 Provocative? Yes.  Shocking? No. Nauffts tackles tragic, complicated and often inexplicable questions with snappy dialogue and plenty of laughs.  This  world premiere production,  formerly titled The Gospel According to Adam, isn't  really  a treatise on religion but  a tragi-comic romance between Adam and Luke.

The play opens   to  piercing  sounds of squealing brakes and a broken car horn wailing like a trumpet outside a hospital where Luke (Patrick Heusinger)  is in grave condition as the result of  an accident.   Four confused  people are holding vigil:  Brandon (Sean Dugan), who  turns out to be Luke's designated contact,  holds a Bible. . . Holly (played with restless  warmth by Maddie Corman)  is a friend,  the slightly funky owner of a candle shop. . . Having flown in from Tallahassee are Luke's divorced parents. His mother Arlene (Connie Ray), is a scatterbrained divorcee  full of  thoughtlessly comments. . .  Butch (Cotter Smith),  Luke's  father, is a blustering  businessman who  quickly  makes  it clear that he is still disappointed that his son left law school to be an actor.  Missing, but often mentioned, is Luke's younger half-brother, Ben, a successful  college student.

The foursome  becomes a quintet  with the arrival  of   a distraught   Adam (a riveting Patrick Breen)  from a trip to Chicago.   Through a series of  flashbacks we learn that he and  Luke met at a party Holly gave five years before. Adam, a salesman in Holly's candle shop, was invited and Luke was hired as a waiter. A defining moment came when Luke performed the Heimlich maneuver on Adam, which turned out to be unnecessary. At the time, neither realized just how far Luke's instinct to save Adam would take them. 

We also  learn that the two men could not have been more different:  Adam is a 45-year-old  hypochondriac with a sharp, witty mind but an inability  to  trust his own happiness. He is always afraid it will collapse.  Even when he becomes a substitute teacher, he remains insecure, but his biggest fear is that his love affair with Luke will end. Luke is a  30-year-old aspiring actor.  He  is handsome, loving and supportive— and a devout Evangelical Christian.  He therefore  feels that because he loves men he is a sinner  but, if he keeps reaffirming his belief, he will be saved on Judgment Day.  He  desperately wants Adam to accept Jesus, so that even as practicing sinners, they will both be saved and can spend eternity together. This unnerves Adam who was never involved with any religion. He  finds  Luke's beliefs incongruous ("So then, if Matthew Shepard hadn't accepted Jesus Christ before he died, he's in hell, and his killers who, say, have, are going to heaven?"). Adam is also bothered by Luke's reluctance to tell his father about their relationship though  he has promised to do so "next fall" (hence the title).   But  over the years, "next fall" has come and gone.

Now, as Luke may be dying,  the problems in  his  and Adam's relationship come to a head.  When the doctors invite the family to visit Luke briefly and to discuss the possibility of organ donations and life support, Adam is not included. He is not "family". Neither Arlene nor Butch even acknowledges their relationship. Adam finally insists on some privacy with Luke, and these final moments are heartbreaking and, for Adam, potentially life changing.

  All  the   characters—  and  there are no   villains here—  are   believably  portrayed.  Set designer Wilson Chin  effectively  evokes  the  bleak atmosphere of a hospital waiting room and  for  the  flashbacks lets  the hospital  furniture  double  for  the living room furnishings  of Luke and Adam's  apartment  living room.   

The winner of the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation's 2008 Theatre Visions Fund award, Next Fall is a poignant portrayal of sincere intentions playing havoc with human emotions. Sheryl Kaller fluidly directs  Naufft's  respectful   treatment   of  his characters'    disparate, deeply held beliefs.  A subtle culmination offers audiences the choice of accepting Adam's resolution or not.  No judgment given. 

The Naked Angel production played at Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd from 6/03/09 to 8/08/09-- the closing extended beyond the original 6/21/09 closing date. Other production details as above except that the costume designer was Jesica Wegener and sound design was by Bart Fasbender
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