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Theatre Review (LA): Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts at the Geffen Playhouse

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Next Fall at the Geffen is show that garners diverse opinions; some love it and wept openly, while other fled at intermission or, like myself, suffered through what turned out to be an interminable play. I hear it played with more energy in New York where it was nominated for a Tony for Best Play, a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, and an Outer Critic Circle Award for Outstanding New Broadway Play. This production even boasts the original director, Sheryl Keller, who was also nominated for a Tony.

The main thing different about this incarnation is that the playwright, Geoffrey Nauffts, is cast as the leading character of Adam. This casting has been called “ideal,” though in New York the original actor got much praise. Was Nauffts not satisfied or was this a vanity move?

In any case most often playwrights should not be in their own plays. The character is so dark and miserable, prone to hyperventilating, and totally intolerant of his new beautiful boyfriend Luke’s (a superb James Wolk) desire to stay closeted to his family, and to his religious feelings that include guilt about being gay. Luke prays before he eats and, more annoyingly, after sex, but he never forces this on anyone around him.

It is Adam who is the nag and the truly intolerant one. Coming out isn’t so easy but I think this is what Nauffts the playwright was getting at. Still, I think he wants your sympathies to be with Adam and not so much with Luke. When Luke is hit by a taxi and has part of his skull removed, Adam is not allowed to visit him since he is not family. Only Luke’s crazy mother (Leslie Ann Warren in a thankless role, though it can be fun to play nuts) and hard-assed father (can you believe, named Butch?) who is intolerance itself are allowed to see the battered Luke.

These are issues that gay men everywhere and indeed their friends must cope with so I applaud bringing these struggles to light. But some of the writing is so “sitcomish” as to be stupid. Nauffts writes extraneous characters like the uptight Brandon (Ken Barnett) and especially the “fag–hag” Holly played by Betsy Brandt. Their characters are more devices than real, and so bring down the believability factor. The show runs two hours but seems much longer. Maybe it is time for a rewrite.

Next Fall plays at the Geffen Playhouse until Dec 4.

Photo by Michael Lamont

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