Matters of life & death

Posted on 19 Apr 2012 at 6:10pm

With ‘Next Fall,’ DTC consciously pushes buttons about faith and sexuality

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THE GOD QUESTION | Religion and sexuality meet when a gay couple — Luke (Steven Walters, bottom) and Adam (Terry Martin, top) — face a crisis when one enters a coma in the Tony-nominated play ‘Next Fall,’ which is officially Kevin Moriarty’s first ‘gay play’ at the DTC. (Photo courtesy Karen Almond)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

In four seasons programming shows as the artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center, Kevin Moriarty has hired gay actors of course, and done plays with fairies, sprites, butch female ranchers, men in tights from Krypton and actual “friends of Dorothy.” But aside from a few secondary characters in the musicals Give It Up and Cabaret, Moriarty has not yet put on any shows with any out gay characters in them where that fact had anything to do with the plot.

Not that some audience members have noticed.

“Every show since I got here, there have been emails from patrons who have said some variation of, ‘That artistic director and his gay agenda are destroying this theater!!!’” Moriarty recounts. “Each time, I think, ‘I haven’t done any plays with gay characters in them!’ It’s mystifying.”
He changes that this week. And in a big way.

Next Fall does what Moriarty has long been falsely accused of doing: Making a gay story front-and-center at the DTC. In it, a gay couple faces a crisis when Luke (Steven Walters), a religious man who never came out to his family, is in the hospital on life support while his partner, Adam (Terry Martin), an atheist, has to deal with his lover’s parents. Who gets to make end-of-life decisions for Luke? And whose wishes predominate?

Next Fall is an emotionally charged play, fraught with discussions of being gay and Christian, both as confronted between the couple and the broader society. It’s a conflict that resonates with many gay men.

For Martin — who by day is the producing artistic director for WaterTower Theatre in Addison — it was a rare opportunity to branch out across the Dallas theater community.

“I’ve been called by Kevin and Lee {Trull, DTC’s casting associate] to read several times, but nothing ever worked out,” he says. But the timing on this occasion was perfect: Martin felt comfortable entrusting WTT’s current show, August: Osage County, to Rene Moreno, and his schedule permitted committing to Next Fall. More than that, the subject matter resonated with him.

“I’ve been blessed,” Martin says. “[My partner] Chris and I have very open families,” so the conflict between gay-accepting and homophobic families was not one he personally has endured. But equally important was how the play deals with issues of faith. He wasn’t the only one.

“What brought me to tears was the portrayal of religion. American theater has been very comfortable talking about sexuality and the culture is catching up. But in theater, there are not a lot of good discussions of faith,” says Moriarty.

“Initially, one of the big surprises to me in putting the play out there was that my first roadblock was with gay men who had left religion,” says Geoffrey Nauffts, who received a Tony Award nomination for Next Fall, his first full-length produced play. “A lot of gay men run theaters, and didn’t want to breathe life into this. They say, ‘I don’t want to deal with this character.’ I now understand why. They had come so far from religion.” When the show was produced, however, he also noticed that “for the most part, people were responsive and it sparked a lot of dialogue.”

Moriarty concurs that the dynamic of art and faith is unique.

“If I talk about my sexuality or my faith, it’s very different in a living room surrounded by friends than in a room full of strangers,” he says. “Our role is not to tell people how to live their lives, but to tell stories of people in conflict that are recognizable — there’s me, that’s not me, even though the guy in the next seat feels the opposite.”
Nauffts is especially interested in how it will be received in Dallas.

“A couple of my friends were in Angels in America at DTC when they did it years ago, and I went to Dallas for a weekend. There were buses parked there with ‘Jesus Saves’ — I still have pictures of it. People were really not having that play done there at that time. My play is not as in-your-face and a little easier for people to get into, but it pushes buttons. There are things that are said about religion and people are very protective of that in their lives. But I think people have come a long way.”
Certainly Moriarty has seen that himself.

“When I was growing up in Indiana, no one in my town was gay. We didn’t even have quasi-lesbians living together. It wasn’t on TV or in the newspapers. ‘Gay’ wasn’t a term you’d even see in a headline, or anywhere, until the late 1980s. But we’ve been through a lot — now everyone is gay!” Moriarty jokes.

Nauffts, though, resists pigeonholing Next Fall.

“There’s certainly a divide in our world along religious lines, and the fact that the main characters are gay complicates things,” he says. “But when we were doing it in New York, people always wanted to peg it a ‘gay play.’ But we saw it as an everyone play.

“I have always found the faith the most complex and interesting aspect to explore,” Nauffts continues. “The fact these two characters happen to be gay men in a relationship together is complicated, but to me, at the core, it’s about people. I put a note in the script: No one is the devil here.

We’re all just trying to get along. Give all these characters as much soul and intelligence as possible. It makes it more difficult for people when they ask themselves the tough questions.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 20, 2012.

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