Both heart-wrenching and funny, Geoffrey Nauffts’s play “Next Fall” brings its audience into the living room of two gay lovers questioning faith and existence: is it acceptable for a gay Christian to sin in love if he believes in Christ? Continuing Speakeasy Stage Company’s tradition of putting on shows that delve into philosophical questions about human nature, “Next Fall”—playing at the Boston Center for the Arts through October 15—presents a fresh perspective on the lives of gay couples through biting humor and hauntingly realistic drama.
The play opens with the spotlight on two characters standing on opposite sides of the stage. Luke (Dan Roach) and Adam (Will McGarrahan) are illuminated in an almost heavenly glow. Luke recites a passage from the Bible in a sincere trance, and then the stage plunges into darkness, only to be relit on a jarringly different scene: the waiting room of a hospital. What ensues is banter reminiscent of Woody Allen’s wit as the characters make small talk, each seeming to know the other only vaguely. We are left wondering what could have possibly brought these characters together.
When the scene ends, the actors again scramble in darkness, rearrange themselves, and reenact memories from five years prior. With the help of musical interlude, different lighting, and fluid set changes, the actors accomplish the difficult task of switching between two portrayals of reality. Each character shifts between present and past, changing outfits with a frantic determination, as though it is his or her responsibility to relay an important message. The result is a production that, though visually inconstant and often chronologically skewed, maintains a remarkable coherence throughout.
Will McGarrahan and Deb Martin (Holly, a friend of Adam’s) project an enormous amount of energy in the show, working off each other’s quirky witticisms expertly. Their repartee make the inherently funny premise of the show—Adam dating a devout believer and working with Holly in a candle and “tchotchke” shop—even more uproarious. McGarrahan portrays Adam as a twitchy, paranoid, gay, Jewish atheist who endlessly taunts the Christians around him. Just after Adam and Luke have their first night together, Adam catches Luke praying, and asks, “Where did you go just then?” Luke responds that he was praying, and after a pause, Adam says, “Praying to whom?” Such tension over religious belief manifests itself in small actions—Luke attempting to take the mezuzah hanging in their New York apartment off the doorway—and in statements of finality—Adam tells Luke at one point, “I want you to love me more than Him.”
The actors, script, lighting, and director work together extremely well and everything in the play seems to have a purpose. A set of chairs, a couch, and industrial hanging lamps make up most of the scenery. The easy set transformation from hospital to home happens not so much by rearranging furniture as by using the props in a different way. The director, Scott Edmiston, has had much experience dealing with risky shows—at the Speakeasy, he has directed “In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)” and “Reckless,” and his experience shows clearly. There is no break between the prop-driven humor—a stuffed elf falls out of a closet, to much laughter—and emotional honesty, when Arelene (Amelia Broome) admits to her struggles with motherhood and drug use.
Geoffrey Nauffts intends for his play to pose questions not usually considered in everyday life. A homosexual and religious person may go through great confusion and anxiety with regards to his or her faith, but ultimately the play is about love and two people who must make compromises if they want to make it work. This is something universal, presented in a new light.
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