Adam (Terry Martin) is almost a character out of a Woody Allen movie: A middle-aged, neurotic, hypochondriac New York intellectual who feels more at home with a snappy witticism, or even picking a fight, than he is with genuine sentiment. For some reason, that doesn’t bother Luke (Steven Walters), 15 years his junior and a cater-waiter aspiring to an acting career. They are an unlikely couple, not so much for the age difference as for their personal philosophies: Adam lives his life out loud; Luke remains in the closet to his conservative Southern family. “I’ll tell them next fall,” he promises … again. Yeah, right.
But love doesn’t have to make sense; it just is — in the same way many people have religious faith despite arguments to the contrary. Like Luke. He identifies as Christian, something the atheist Adam can’t wrap his mind around.
That’s the thumbnail summary of Next Fall, presented by Dallas Theater Center at the Kalita. The facts are complicated when Luke slips into a coma, and Adam is forced to deal with Luke’s parents, even though they have no idea who this man — more a contemporary than a proto-son-in-law — is.
In many ways, Geoffrey Nauffts’ Tony-nominated play doesn’t have much new to say about the issue of being gay and religious; in a Bible Belt town like Dallas, where the Cathedral of Hope boasts the largest gay congregation in the U.S., it presents discussions you’ll likely hear during an average brunch in Oak Lawn. But if the conversations aren’t fresh, their presence on a stage are: This is theater of ideas.
Still, some of the best parts of Next Fall are those that aren’t spoken, or even fleshed out. When Luke’s dad Butch (Kieran Connolly) drops into their shared apartment unexpectedly, Luke’s panicky efforts to “straighten up” the place seem more sad than comic. As an actor, Luke should feel comfortable in his own skin, but his desperate denial affronts Adam, his “dirty little secret.” Even more profound, though, is Butch’s apparent deliberate ignorance — how can he not see that his single, slightly fey actor-son with a sugar-daddy “roommate” is gay? When Adam later tries to ease Luke’s mom (Candy Buckley, who’s a hoot) in the nature of his relationship with her son — respectfully, tentatively — the subtext is unmistakable. It’s a prickly moment, but also lovely … and probably familiar to many gay audience members.
Next Fall is unexpectedly funny, especially in the first act, but its greatest achievements are in Act 2, when Martin’s anguish bleeds rawly from the stage, and Buckley’s pill-poppin’
GCB morphs from comic relief to surrogate mom for everyone in the audience. The cast is outstanding, including Lynn Blackburn and Lee Trull who are wonderfully instinctive about when to play for laughs or tears. There are plenty of both.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through May 6. DallasTheaterCenter.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2012.