Amid the manufactured rhinestones glittering on the surface of "Next Fall," playwright Geoffrey Nauffts does embed one genuine nugget: What obstacles -- in and out of our control -- prevent us from really loving a mate? Nauffts gives us Luke and Adam, partners who simply cannot relax into each other's souls because they have freighted their relationship with so much ideology, personality, history and mere circumstances. Their unfinished business surfaces sadly in a moment of crisis.
Waiting for that jewel to reveal itself, though, is tiresome business in Nauffts' play, which is being produced at the Jungle Theater as if it's a TV movie of the week. Nauffts invites that approach, but director Joel Sass should have pushed past the contrivance and inauthentic assumptions. His excavation might have been for naught, but we'll never know. As it is, the whole precious exercise lolls in its sentimental precocity.
Luke, struck by an automobile, is offstage in intensive care. His divorced parents and three friends wait to see him. It's likely going to be family-only, which puts Adam in a bind. Luke never told his father, Butch, about Adam. This dramatic lynchpin catapults us into flashback scenes sketching the couple's history.
Nauffts' play and Sass' production share a glib facility. Neil Skoy's bright and cheery Luke explains to Adam that he's a fundamentalist Christian, waiting for the Rapture. He prays for forgiveness after they have sex, explaining that he's just like any other Christian asking for absolution after a lusty day of sinning. What's more, Luke begs Adam to accept Jesus so they will live together in eternity.
Leaving aside Nauffts' naive theology, this gambit exists not to resolve itself but as a straw man preventing Luke from telling Butch about Adam.
Skoy, a fine young actor, never convinces us that Luke really believes in his fundamentalist ideology. Nauffts has shorted both religion and Luke's sexual identity with this implausibility. This is a guy who should be on an analyst's couch.
Nauffts pulls punches whenever such complexity arises, so that his characters can pose for more one-liners. Garry Geiken's Adam is lightweight, lacking droll insight or believable likability. Stephen Yoakam does better with the straightforward Butch. Sasha Andreev plays a self-loathing gay friend with white-knuckled gravitas. Maggie Bearmon Pistner has just the right affect for Luke's mother, Arlene, but her work is aware of itself. Andrea Leap's Holly -- a friend of Adam's and Luke's -- is all gesture and mugs.
Sass' production has the lacquer of small-screen cinema, again perhaps appropriately, but this seems to play right into Nauffts' trap. There has to be a better way.
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