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A CurtainUp Review
Original Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
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