The idea of a comedy about a relationship with two guys sounded to me intensely appealing on the face … I mean, it’s the 21st century, we’ve really moved beyond the closeted humor of The Odd Couple and the hysteria and self-hatred of La Cage Aux Folles – isn’t it time that we admit that, like any couple, two dudes (in a relationship) in an apartment has just as much potential to be funny as any other situation? So I was ready to sit down to a good time evening and see a nice, fresh American take on what it means to be gay now with Next Fall at the Southwark Playhouse. (I mean, really, based on my friends on each of the coasts, I’m waiting for a family comedy as both of the long term guy couples I know also have daughters and there is definite comedy and drama gold for someone with a pen at the ready.)
As it turns out, this play actually fell far short of being a comedy, despite having lots of funny moments. The topics – religion, relationships, and death – were, to be honest, the kind of things that in real life we will make fun of, but which, as part of a play, actually tend to throw a pall on jokes. Do you know a good joke about organ donation? I’m sure there are plenty out there, but if you’ve spent an evening building up a relationship with a character (or years being someone’s friend), it’s actually not really a space where I find I’m ready for laughter.
The story of Next Fall is about two men who fall in love despite their age and religious differences. Adam (Charlie Condou) and Luke (Martin Delaney) initially struggle because of their different paths in life; but as they are drawn together, it’s Luke’s close relationship with God that makes it hard for Adam to feel comfortable in their relationship. And why wouldn’t it be, when his partner prays for forgiveness after sex and spends intimate moments lecturing him about what will happen if you’re on a plane during the rapture? This is on top of the constant promises to finally admit to Luke’s family that they’re actually a couple (which will happen “next fall,” get it).
In the “making this a comedy” support group we have fag hag Holly (Sirine Saba), who wants to be supportive but somehow still totally lets down Adam in the hospital; Mom (Nancy Crane), who falls apart unbelievably, and control freak Dad (Mitchell Mullen, 100% perfect in every way); and “why am I here” closeted gay man Brandon (Ben Cura), who clutches tightly onto his bible while feeling closer to God than Adam because he sticks to cheap sex rather than having a dirty “relationship” with another man. (Rarely have I seen a character who so utterly existed only to deliver a single line, although he was very hot.)
I walked away from this play asking myself, why was it written? What was the point? Was it to show that “gay marriage” was important to give same sex partners the rights to be with their partners in the hospital, like their families? (The story of Alex B Toklas essentially dying penniless because of Getrude Stein’s family stealing her partner’s bequest handled this well for me.) Was it to engage in a meaningful dialogue about religion in relationships, or about evangelic homosexuals? Adam’s rant about wiping his ass with the bible killed this line for me. Or was it to actually build a comedy showing that two guys with very different life paths could still love each other despite the various obstacles in their way? This is the story that won me over; but at the end, the story line about Adam took a turn that I found impossible to digest and untrue to the narrative at hand, unless it was really to prove the superiority of those who follow the path “of righteousness” as compared with us lesser non-believers. After 8 years in England, I’ve come to love feeling safe from the intrusiveness of God-botherers in everyday life; this play made me think that the theater would be a far worse place if they had the upper hand. Ah well, it sold well in New York; I can only hope that UK theater goers will reject this play’s message.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, September 29, 2014. It continues through October 25th.)