Review: “Next Fall” by Geoffrey Nauffts. Produced by ArtsWest. Directed by Cindy Bradder. With Christopher Zinovitch, David Elwyn Traylor, Daniel Stoltenberg, Patricia Hines-Ainsworth, John Wray and Kate Witt. Now through April 6, 2013 at ArtsWest.
Does “Tony Nominee” really mean anything anymore? (For that matter, do any awards for any form of art, really mean anything?) I see a lot of theater that has “Tony Winner!” or “Nominated for 4 Tony Awards!” plastered all over it, only to discover that the play (or, musical) isn’t particularly well plotted or constructed. I’ve now seen three of the four plays nominated for the Tony Award in 2010: John Logan’s “Red”, (it was ok but a bit contrived); Sarah Ruhl’s “In the Next Room (Or The Vibrator Play)”, (also, ok and also a bit precious) and now Geoffrey Nauffts’ “Next Fall” currently onstage at ArtsWest in West Seattle, (more on that in a moment). The jury is still out for Donald Margulies’ “Time Stand Still”…as far as I’m aware, it hasn’t had a production in Seattle. I’m hoping it actually has some merit but I’m not holding my breath.
That brings us to “Next Fall” and of the three Best Play Tony Award nominees of 2010 I’ve encountered, it’s by far the weakest. It’s the supposedly topical story of a gay couple who have a little problem…Adam, the older of the two, is a sardonic and rather ambiguously agnostic non-believer while the much younger, Luke is a firmly devout Christian who prays before meals and after having sex. Adam is very much out of the closet but Luke, a struggling actor, is very much in the closet, especially when it comes to his family. Wackiness ensues when a tragedy strikes the couple (Luke gets run over by a taxi cab) and Adam has to deal with the ramifications of having a comatose boyfriend in intensive care and dealing with Luke’s divorced parents. There’s also Adam’s fag hag Holly on hand, as well as Luke’s stuffed shirt, closet case, fellow Christian asshole friend, Brandon. The play alternates between scenes set in the hospital waiting room, and flashbacks to Adam and Luke’s relationship over the preceding 4 years, and their struggle to maintain that relationship despite their religious differences. It’s a romantic comedy and a domestic tragedy all in one fun package!
It’s also a big crock of shit.
There’s very little believable about Adam and Luke’s relationship. Adam is a bit of a whiny queen and Luke is a closet case with a boner for Jesus. In real life, these two would have lasted about a week and a half and only that long if the sex was really awesome. The playwright desperately wants us to care about this important and vital issue facing the gay community but the main problem with that is…this really ISN’T a huge problem for the gay community. Religious gays usually stick with other religious gays, and for the few “mixed” relationships out there, we’re thinking the majority of the religious gays in those relationships keep their mouths shut about their chosen God/Goddess as they trot off to church/temple while their non-religious partner stays home and makes pancakes. As a gay man, and an agnostic one at that, I didn’t really find this discussion that interesting or that groundbreaking. It was just tiresome. It also doesn’t help that the characters in the play are so stupid about religion..Adam is allegedly a college educated writer who seems particularly clueless when it comes to rather simple discussions about Christianity and the Rapture. It’s just lazy writing on the part of the playwright which continues all the way up to the end of the play. The ridiculous ending, which involves SOMEONE finding some faith, (gee, I wonder who?) just made me want to gouge out someone’s eyeball…why is it, that in ANY tv show, movie or play that involves a character with a lack of faith, that by the final scene they ALWAYS have to see the light? It’s just another load of the same old caca.
It also doesn’t help that none of the characters seem particularly real or interesting. Luke’s mom is a Southern kook who doesn’t shut up. His dad is an uptight Southern Christian. Yet, supposedly both of these characters were wild and crazy party animals when they were younger and the dad was mentored by a famous gay financier and neither of the parents are apparently clever enough to figure out their actor son living in New York City and hanging around a bunch of nelly queens is gay. The closet case friend of Luke’s is an asshole who doesn’t really have much to do in the play except reveal that he is indeed a closet case, Bible loving asshole who prefers black men. The fag hag character is your stock fag hag character out of Central Casting. No one seems like a real person and the discussions about gays and religion, and partner’s rights in the hospital seem forced and phony. “Next Fall” is a terrific gay play for people who know nothing about being gay or the gay community. It has enough jerked tears and consoling hugs to fuel a thousand “woman in emotional peril” movies from the 1950s and usually starring Susan Hayward or Jane Wyman.
As for ArtsWest’s production of the play…it’s an ok production of a mediocre play. Kate Witt, one of the best actresses who work at that theater, is largely wasted as the fag hag friend but her scenes are the most interesting ones in the show. Daniel Stoltenberg is fine as the asshole…it’s such an awful role but he makes the most of it. Patricia Haines-Ainsworth is very funny as the crazy Southern mom, but she’s about 10% too far over the top while John Wray as the uptight dad, is underplaying by about the same amount so they’re never really on the same page…which isn’t necessarily an awful thing; it would explain why their characters are divorced…
As for our two leads, David Elywn Traylor is an attractive and charismatic Luke…it must be a bore to portray such a closety yutz, but Mr. Traylor handles himself well. Meanwhile, Christopher Zinovitch plays the older Adam like a combination of Auntie Mame and Harold from “The Boys in the Band”…he seems to alternate between high camp and high tragedy without much happening in between. The lack of chemistry between the actors only accentuates the absurdity of the relationship in the play.
I’m not a fan of this play. It didn’t move me. It didn’t say anything new or interesting and it never felt the slightest bit authentic or meaningful. It’s a play for nice straight people to allow themselves to have a nice cry and feel better about the plight of gay people…but, only if they commit themselves to a life of wholesome Christianity.