Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Theater Review: Next Fall

Questions About Faith and Relationships
By Lauren Yarger
Questions about life, death and reality collide in Geoffrey Nauffts' play Next Fall, presented by Naked Angels Off-Broadway at the Jay Sharp Theater.

As Luke (Patrick Heusinger) lies in a coma after being struck by a car, his family and friends gather in the waiting room for news of Luke’s condition. Tensions mount, not just from their concern about Luke’s condition, but because Luke’s uptight Southern Christian father and stepmother, Butch (Cotter Smith) and Arlene (Connie Ray), don’t know that Adam (Patrick Breen) is more than just a friend. He’s Luke’s lover.

Holly (Maddie Corman), who owns the shop where Luke, an unemployed actor, sells candles, tries to keep Butch and Arlene at bay while comforting Adam, who waits for medical updates given only to “family” members. Luke’s other friend, Brandon (Sean Dugan), a somewhat superfluous character, also is on hand.

Through flashbacks (nicely directed by Sheryl Kaller on a hospital room set designed by Wilson Chin, complete with walls that slide out to create the couple’s apartment) we see the developments of the relationship between Luke, a Christian who struggles with his homosexuality and who prays for forgiveness after sex, and the unchurched, hypochondriac-prone Adam (religion is too exclusive, judgmental and has too many rules, he tells us).

Nauffts throws in a full bucket of Atheism 101 questions like “what about the Mongolian sheep herder who’s never heard of Jesus? (often answered in a hit-and-run or punch line fashion) to explain the conflicts of faith (Luke grew up in the church; Adam didn’t really have a religion) between the men.

There are some more thought-provoking moments, however, like conversations about evolution, Adam’s inability to be with Luke or find out information at the hospital and Luke’s response to how he can be a Christian and live a gay lifestyle.

“We’re all sinners,” he says, “That just happens to be mine.”

Adam also gives fodder for some good theological pondering when he questions how it is possible for a gay person like Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was murdered and who might not have known the Lord, to go to hell while those who killed him might be able to repent and go to heaven.

Religion is a wall the two can’t seem to break down, but soon we discover that it’s not religion itself, but Luke’s inability to put Adam first in his life that form its foundation.

“I want you to love me more than Him,” Adam says.

Luke’s desire to honor God and his father causes constant struggles. In one flashback, Luke, after “degaying” their apartment in anticipation of a visit from Butch finally agrees with Adam’s urging that it’s time to tell his father (and subsequently his younger brother, whom he’d intended to tell “next fall”) that he is gay. Just as Luke starts to make the disclosure, the previously unexpressive Butch, whom we suspect knows about his son’s inclination, expresses pride in his son’s acting career and Luke remains silent.

If some of the stuff is glib and stereotypic (Butch and Arlene are racists among other things and Brandon, the supportive apparently conservative Christian friend turns out to be gay himself—a device showing up more in more in plays as if to say, “see Christians aren’t perfect either"), Adam’s gradual understanding of Luke’s belief is a somewhat refreshing twist. Holly provides some comic relief.

Next Fall at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 W. 42nd St., NYC has been extended through Aug. 8. For tickets and information, visit http://www.nakedangels.com/nextfall/

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• 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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