Monday, March 29, 2010

Theater Review: Next Fall

A look at the Consequences of Putting Things Off
By Lauren Yarger
What’s Geoffrey Nauffts’ play Next Fall about? Depending on whom you ask, the answer might be gay rights, relationships, religion or about not taking anything for granted.

In reality, it’s a mix of all of those issues wrapped into a thought-provoking Broadway work guaranteed to prompt lots of discussion long after you’ve left the theater.

The sounds of a car crash open the action set in a hospital waiting room where family and friends of Luke (Patrick Heusinger) gather while they wait for news about whether he’ll emerge from a coma following the accident. His divorced parents, Butch (Cotter Smith) and Arlene (Connie Ray), make small talk with Luke’s Christian friend, Brandon (Sean Dugan) and Holly (Maddie Corman), who employs Luke in her candle shop, until the arrival of Luke’s lover, Adam (Patrick Breen).

Adam wants to visit Luke and to be involved in medical decisions, but Holly reminds him to back off since Luke never has come out to his parents. Through flashbacks, we see how the couple met and how Luke’s Christian faith and hypochondriac Adam’s atheism clash throughout their relationship.

Disappointed by his son’s decision to switch from a law career to acting (never mind candle selling), Butch, in a move that makes us wonder just how oblivious he is to his son’s sexuality, tells Luke that if he is gay, he’ll never let him see his younger brother again. Luke does try tell his father the truth once, when Butch makes a surprise visit to the couple’s apartment (which they hurriedly try to “degay”), but he declines to do so when Butch chooses that moment to be supportive of his son’s decision to pursue an acting career. Luke promises Adam that he’ll come out to his brother “next fall,” but that season never comes. In a nice metaphor, we hear about Luke’s stellar performance in Our Town, a play about not taking the people you love for granted.
At the heart of Next Fall is the religious conflict between the two men and just about every argument (and stereotype) makes its way into the script, though Nauffts doesn’t really take sides. Holly has tried every kind of new age religion, but falls back on the traditions of her Catholic upbringing for comfort during the ordeal at the hospital. Butch is legalistic and judgmental; especially about gays and Arlene’s dependence on the prescription medications that helped break up their marriage (apparently divorce and gambling aren’t issues for Butch, though). Arlene isn’t sure what she believes.

Luke says he has accepted Jesus Christ, and because of that commitment, all of his sins can be wiped clean. He simply prays for forgiveness after he and Adam have sex.

“We all sin,” he says. “This just happens to be mine.”

Brandon eventually pulls back from their relationship, unable to accept Luke’s constant sinning/repenting routine. Brandon struggles with homosexuality himself, and understands the temptations, but believes Luke crossed a line when he entered into the lifestyle and into a serious relationship with Adam.

“It’s human nature,” Luke rationalizes. “We can’t escape it.”

Adam, meanwhile, doesn’t believe in anything and for him, Luke’s praying after sex becomes a way for God to intrude into their relationship.

“I want you to love me more than Him,” he tells Luke.

In an interesting twist, Luke is kind of quiet about his faith and is reluctant to share too much. Some of Adam’s friends already have stopped spending time with them because they disapprove of Luke’s faith and its negative views about homosexuality. When pushed, Luke fields all of the typical questions non believers ask, like, “What about the Mongolian goat herder who never has heard of Christ?” or “How can the killer of Matthew Shepard repent and go to heaven while Shepard, if non-repentant, heads to hell?” Luke doesn’t really answer, perhaps because he’s somewhat confused himself.

There aren’t any easy answers here, and that’s Nauffts’ intent. The play explores the various relationships and their complexities, but doesn’t try to be a spokesperson for any cause. Interestingly, if Nauffts were to change the Luke character to a female who gave in to the temptation of living with Adam outside of marriage, who struggled with the sin involved with that decision and who was reluctant to tell her father about it, he’d have essentially the same play (though I’m almost certain Sir Elton John would not have signed on as a producer for that one).

The ensemble cast, which director Sheryl Kaller fought to transfer from the Off-Broadway production she helmed last season despite the fact that there aren’t any stars deemed necessary for a successful Broadway run, all turn in solid performances. Some of the more intimate feel of the smaller Off-Broadway theater is lost at the Helen Hayes, but Wilson Chin and Jeff Croiter (scenic and lighting design) effectively make the audience feel as though they are right there in the waiting room with these folks.

Next Fall plays at the Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44th St., NYC. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200 ; Outside NY/NJ/CT: (800) 432-7250. Special discounted tickets for groups are available through Masterwork Productions at http://www.givenik.com/?code=Masterworks.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Nudity in a photograph
• Homosexual activity

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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