Thursday, March 25, 2010

Go See Next Fall

"Next Fall," a new and powerful play on Broadway about a gay couple and the tension that results from their contrasting religious beliefs, will close prematurely if it fails to attract an audience sufficient to pay for its modest production costs. Straight plays have always been a tough sell on Broadway, but things have gotten tougher as most ticket buyers are increasingly drawn to stories that feature big name stars, which Next Fall assuredly lacks. It will be a theatrical shame if this happens to Next Fall, too, as it really is a moving, entertaining, and thought provoking show.

Next Fall is a simple story about two gay men who have a loving and playful relationship. One is younger, good looking, and a fundamentalist Christian. The other is older, curmudgeonly, not particularly attractive, and a bit of an agnostic. In the second scene of the play, we see the younger man overtly flirting with the older man and in later scenes we see them living together, quite happily, though their heated discussions about religion periodically test their commitment. These differences result in some marvelous exchanges in which the fundamentalist gently tries to explain why he worries about his partner's impending damnation and the agnostic impatiently interrogates his lover about a set of beliefs that strike him as absolutely irrational. They also have very different attitudes about their homosexuality. On the surface, both seem to be at ease, but it turns out that the younger man has not come out to his parents and when his father arrives for a surprise visit, they must "degay" the apartment by removing various pictures, including a Robert Mapplethorpe portrait, and a biography of Truman Capote. The older man is outraged by this charade but eventually goes along, not sure they have fooled the younger man's rather macho and southern fundamentalist father named Butch.

All of these scenes of the two men living together are flashbacks, as the play's primary action takes place in the waiting room of a hospital where the younger man's life hangs in the balance owing to a terrible accident. His various relatives and friends are there in a kind of despairing vigil and what happens between them, especially the older gay man and the younger gay man's father, seems to tie all the loose ends of the play together.

What I can't begin to capture here is the humor and cleverness of this play and how well it demonstrates that the things that seem to keep us apart are, in the end, nothing compared to the far more important stuff that brings us together. We just need to be reminded of what those things are now and then, and, unfortunately, that it sometimes takes a terrible tragedy to bring us back to our senses once again.

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