Saturday, February 27, 2010

Next Fall

We saw the play "Next Fall" when it was off-Broadway this summer. We thought it was sensational. We wanted to see it again but it sold out its run before we could. Now, in one of those rare cases of an unknown play making the leap to the Great White Way, it is in Broadway previews and we saw it again last night.

It's a simple love story between two gay men. One is older and a bit plain looking, the other youthful and attractive; one a cynical atheist, the other a Christian fundamentalist. It is not easily summarized, as the brilliance of the play is in the particularities of character and conversation and situation. In his rave review of the original play, the Times theater critic Ben Brantley was sensitive to the hackneyed tendencies of this set-up when he wrote: "You can imagine its concept being pitched to a television producer as a sort of “Will & Grace” with an ontological conscience: He’s a committed Christian, while he’s a committed atheist, and it’s driving their crazy friends even crazier!"

Yet, as Brantley went on to explain, this story is told so artfully that it feels like a long and completely unplanned conversation. Suffice it to say, that every actor is perfect in her or his role and as an audience member I did have the sensation of overhearing real exchanges about issues, dilemmas and conflicts, however raw and unresolved, that struck me as everyday and yet profound. Perhaps the most interesting part of the relationship between the two men is that the fundamentalist really does believe his partner is damned, and his real love for his atheist makes this concern all the more touching.

The plot does hinge as well on a possibly fatal accident with most of the play being told as a kind of flashback, so having a death weighing in the balance would seem to make this cliche-inclining piece even more rickety, but somehow it all works. We really do end up caring about the people on stage and see ourselves indirectly reflected in all of them as well. All the fundamental things apply. Theater at its best reminding us about what matters most and what vulnerable and exhilarating creatures we can be.

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