Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This Summer Catch - Next Fall - Play Review

Next Fall - Naked Angels at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre (at Playwrights Horizons) - Off-Broadway, New York, NY - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Geoffrey Nauffts, Directed by Sheryl Kaller
Runs until July 11th 2009 UPDATE: Extended again until Aug. 8th 2009
UPDATE: It's moving to Broadway! Previews begin Feb. 2010. Opens at the Helen Hayes Theatre Mar. 11 2010!

An average looking pessimistic unsuccessful writer in his mid life manages to catch the eye of a young attractive optimistic hunky wannabe actor. All apparently after the young lad saves the older man from choking to death with a well time Heimlich maneuver. And age difference or choking is not even the part of this terrific new play that causes strife between these two oddly matched lovebirds. Adam, the older man in the pairing, played to sarcastic slightly embittered perfection by Patrick Breen (above right, perennial TV guest star including Pushing Daisies, ER, Eli Stone) is an atheist, while his young lover Luke (a lovely Patrick Heusinger above left, Gossip Girl, 30 Rock, Spamalot) is an unapologetic Christian Southerner living in New York. Luke accepts his gay life as a sin that he must repent for, but nonetheless, lives an accepting life with Adam except staying closeted to his redneck parents.

You could groan now at the whole set up, an obvious politically charged situation with room for a ton of liberal preaching, all wrapped in a too-good-to-be-true-gay-relationship-fantasy but playwright Geoffrey Nauffts manages to turn it into a deeply personal and emotionally specific story that breathes truths through a realistic approach. And did I mention the play is VERY VERY funny!?

Things start unravelling when Luke is sent to the hospital after an accident and Luke and Adam's big city gay life (along with their best girlfriend Holly, a hilariously caustic Maddie Corman) collides with Luke's Christian family and an old friend in Brandon (an intelligent Sean Dugan). Luke's divorced parents Butch (Cotter Smith) and Arlene (Connie Ray) unite at the hospital where everyone else sits in the waiting room. Without spoiling the entire plot, we get to see flashbacks of Luke and Adam's cute first meeting (where the Heimlich part fits in), through their 5 year relationship, all while the issues of religion, family obligation, gay politics all come into play, and all without ever feeling forced. It all manages to become highly entertaining with a huge emotional impact.

Much credit goes to the cast, with Cotter Smith and Connie Ray (above) turning what could have easily been caricatures, and with Nauffts writing and taut directions by Sheryl Kaller, go beyond their stereotypes to surprising degrees. Sean Dugan's Brandon is a bit of a mystery, but his surprising connection to Luke and Adam reveals itself in a subtle and smooth way. And Maddie Corman (above right) is Holly the sidekick who flings off zippy one-liners without simply being 2-dimensional.

But at its heart of the story, we must believe that Adam and Luke (Patrick Breen and Patrick Heusinger) would get together in the first place. Even though it may seem too cute to be believe, the simplicity of their story and Heusinger's charming and believable portrayal of a gay Christian, both accepting of his homosexuality and torn about the repercussions, beautifully enhances the witty and sharp script. Kaller's sharp direction and a wonderfully simplistic but versatile set enhances the intricacies from a seemingly basic situation.

The play always seems like it could turn out resembling something out of a bad sitcom but it quickly establishes itself with intelligence, heart and deeper concerns. While the cutting details create funny moments, an engaging cast and mining the drama out of family dynamics in a Prop 8 world cuts to the sad state some of us still live in. Be sure to catch Next Fall this summer while it's still playing, especially now that is has been extended again until July 11th (though apparently, it will be the final extension, even though word is getting out about the show and apparently selling well). (UPDATE: They lied. It's been extended AGAIN!!! Until Aug. 8th 2009)

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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