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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
NEXT FALL
at the Helen Hayes

FAMILY ONLY
By BILL STEVENSON

  Patrick Heusinger and Patrick Breen/ Ph: Carol Rosegg

If there’s any justice, Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall will be that too-rare 21st century phenomenon: a straight play without a movie star in the cast that becomes a Broadway hit. Well, it isn’t exactly a straight play, since the central characters are a gay couple. But as far as gay-themed plays go, this one should appeal to a broad audience.
 
The gay couple in Nauffts’ engaging play is the fortyish Adam (Patrick Breen) and the twenty-something Luke (Patrick Heusinger). Besides the age difference, the two are miles apart when it comes to religion. Adam doesn’t go to church, while Luke is very religious. In fact, Luke has the unusual habit of praying after having sex, as if to atone for the sin he just committed. To Adam and his friends, Luke is self-loathing. That may be true to a point, but most gay men on the far side of 40 would quickly get over any religious differences if their boyfriend looked like Heusinger (one of the attractive stars of the CW series "Gossip Girl"). And their friends would be jealous.
 
Nauffts, an actor-writer who is also artistic director of Naked Angels, skillfully shifts back and forth between scenes from Adam and Luke’s relationship and the present, when Adam joins Luke’s parents in a hospital waiting room. Luke has been seriously injured after being hit by a car, and Adam has rushed back from his high school reunion. Luke’s talkative, well-meaning mother, Arlene (Connie Ray), is holding court. She bonds easily with Holly (Maddie Corman), who owns the candle store where both Adam and Luke have worked, and Brandon (Sean Dugan), a friend of Luke’s who shares his conservative Christian views. Luke’s good-ol’-boy father, Butch (Cotter Smith), assumes he is the one who should make all the decisions about Luke’s care. He either doesn’t know, or chooses not to realize, that Adam is Luke’s longtime boyfriend. Adam, naturally, is angry when he learns that visiting is restricted to “family only” when he arrives.
 
All the characters are fully developed by Nauffts and the actors, who originated their roles in Naked Angels’ Off Broadway production last summer. The well-cast ensemble makes the most of the comic moments but is equally believable in the serious scenes. Director Sheryl Kaller deserves part of the credit for the nice balance in tone. And with help from scenic designer Wilson Chin, she makes the scene changes seamless and fast.
 
Without ever becoming heavy-handed, Next Fall covers religion, relationships, gay men’s relationships with their parents, gay lovers’ rights in hospitals, and other timely issues. Nauffts also references—and borrows from—the timeless Our Town. Like Thornton Wilder’s great play, Next Fall emphasizes the importance of living life to the fullest and appreciating it before it’s too late. One hopes that Broadway theatergoers will appreciate this entertaining, thought-provoking, and moving new American play. 

 


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