Two gay men, one a staunch conservative Evangelical Christian the other a liberal atheist, fall in love. Hijinks ensue.
That’s the popular premise behind Geoffrey Nauffts’ 2010 Tony-nominated play “Next Fall,” but it’s a description that only scratches the surfaces of his 2 1/2-hour dramedy about the five-year relationship of a gay Manhattan couple.
Nauffts disguises a compelling and intricate deconstruction of the American belief system as a hearty sitcom replete with witty one-liners. Luke (Cole Simon) and Adam (Jon Osbeck) meet on a restaurant patio. Adam is trying to escape his prattling friends and Luke is the cute, younger waiter/”actor” that strikes up a conversation with the lonely older gentlemen. Soon sparks fly and later we see them enjoy breakfast together post-coitus. It’s here where Adam notices Luke praying over his food, and when Luke asks, “Is that a problem,” the true meat of our story begins.
But what makes the play so effecting is it doesn’t simply start with love. We begin in a hospital room five years after the restaurant meet cute, where Luke is fighting for his life after being in a life-threatening accident. Adam arrives to the hospital waiting room to Luke’s conservative parents (Anne Diehl and Ralph E. Scott), up for Florida, who Luke has yet to tell he’s gay. Adam and Luke have been together five years.
This better paints a picture of the palpable tensions Nauffts is playing with in “Next Fall,” and CATCO/Phoenix’s production—running through April 1 in Studio One of the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street, Columbus—packs an emotional punch that can’t be missed.
Director Jimmy Bohr, from Ohio State University, has a assembled a refreshing cast of new and familiar faces.
Osbeck leads as Adam and impressively rides the wave of emotions his character embodies. Forced to always question his disbelief and racked with the guilt of never giving in to his partner’s one wish of salvation as he lies on his death bed. Osbeck pushes his character just far enough to show the true inner turmoil without becoming cliché.
Diehl and Scott, both local theater staples, are true pros as Luke’s Southern-accented parents. Scott is especially captivating as Luke’s intolerant father. He truly embodies the show’s antagonist, the backwoods bigot who just won’t get a clue. But he does it with a vulnerability that makes you believe his commitment to political incorrectness. When he asks, “Was the nigger a fag?” during a pivotal scene with Simon, it stings and leaves a mark; as such a comment should.
Simon also shines as Luke, becoming a subtle scene-stealing force throughout the flashbacks that chronicle the couple’s relationship. Luke could have easily become as campy bundle of contradictions, but in Simon’s hands he becomes a realistic portrayal of the dichotomy forced upon many who choose to openly live life in their multiple truths.
Tim Simeone and Ginna Hoben are also impressive as supportive friends grappling with their own insecurities about faith while trying to mitigate the tensions between Adam and Luke’s parents.
Nauffts smartly and often beautifully weaves his thesis on the intricacies of faith and religion into a two-act docu-drama on the lives of two people who in most circles would be considered walking contradictions. It not only entertains while combating myths and stereotypes, but never takes sides, forcing to audience to take a moment and mentally catalogue their own belief systems.
CATCO/Phoenix presents “Next Fall” through April 1 in Studio One of the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. Tickets are $11 to $40. For more information visit www.catco.org.