Friday, March 12, 2010

Opposites Collide

Next Fall

Starring Patrick Breen, Maddie Corman, Sean Dugan, Patrick Heusinger, Connie Ray, Cotter Smith

Performances began February 16, 2010

Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street

In Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall, faith and love, among other things, collide. Nauffts’ hero, Adam, is a tough-as-nails, 45-year-old New Yorker in love with Jake, a much younger aspiring actor from the South. When Jake has a serious accident and is hospitalized, his Christian parents, Arlene and Butch, arrive and immediately oversee his treatment while Adam—never acknowledged as his lover by the closeted Jake to his uncomprehending parents—must pretend he’s not “family.”

The story of Next Fall is rife with dramatic possibilities that Nauffts doesn‘t take full advantage of. There’s tension in Jake’s being so devoutly religious and Adam so sardonically agnostic: in the play’s best scene, at breakfast the men spar over Jake’s unshakable belief in forgiveness, which even triumphs over his love for Adam. Yet Nauffts (defensively, perhaps?) overrelies on easy jokes, such as Arlene not knowing what a “tchotchke” is (she mishears it as “chachi”) or the men‘s good friend Holly wondering if fag hags will be allowed into heaven.

Jake’s parents are too caricatured, with the homophobic Butch (get it?) as an unabashed creationist who believes in the bible literally and his ex-wife Arlene as a clueless pill popper. That they register more strongly onstage than on the page is due to Connie Ray’s and (especially) Cotter Smith’s sympathetic performances. Holly, owner of the candle shop where Jake (and earlier Adam) works; and Brandon, Jake’s closeted friend who falls out with him because of his relationship with Adam, are enacted persuasively by Maddie Corman and Sean Dugan, despite Nauffts’ inability to make them plausibly real.

Jake’s and Adam’s relationship is handled gracefully, for the most part, although the cut-and-dried opposites (God-fearing vs. atheist, out vs. closeted, big city vs. small town) become wearying after awhile. And turning Our Town into a parallel for these goings-on strikes me as arrogant, notably when Holly explains everything at the end. Still, Nauffts has a good ear for everyday dialogue when he‘s not overdoing the one-liners, particularly in the aforementioned breakfast scene and, later, during the “de-gaying the apartment” scene when Butch is making an unexpected visit and Jake wants every trace of Adam, including a book about Truman Capote and a Mapplethorpe-like photograph of a naked black man‘s buttocks, out of sight.

Patrick Breen plays Adam with too many Ben Stiller-ish mannerisms, which put over the jokes but hamper the more tender scenes. But Patrick Heusinger, a handsome young actor, makes Jake entirely human, not simply a caricatured Christian who prays after sex to alleviate his sin of homosexuality. His portrayal of enormous empathy and warmth makes Next Fall worth seeing, warts and all. originally posted on

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