(Seen September 25-2011)
In the prologue of Geoffrey Nauffts' "Next Fall," one man quotes this description of the Rapture as found in Corinthians to another: "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
But, at that moment, we don't know that he's describing the "Rapture." It might just as readily reflect a hyperbolic joy at the start of a great love story.
The love story is that of Luke (Dan Roach), an evangelical Christian and Adam (Will McGarrahan), a somewhat older, non-believing hypochondriac. Its five-year chronicle is told in flashback form, from their meeting "cute" at a party where Luke was a cater waiter/actor who hit on Adam at a party ("I didn't think you were choking when I gave you the Heimlich maneuver... I just wanted to get my arms around you") to their setting up as domestic partners.
The present is far grimmer, in the waiting room of a New York City hospital, where Luke lies comatose after being hit by a taxicab.
Luke's family and friends have gathered and the hierarchy of these relationships is tested by the fact that Luke has never come out to his fundamentalist family. So, Adam is excluded, not only from medical decisions and communications with the doctors, but even from seeing Luke.
Luke and Adam have argued about Luke's dual life, as we see in quick, sharp wonderfully concise flashbacks, separated from the present by subtle lighting changes (by Karen Perlow), an evocative soundscape (by Dewey Dellay) and by moving curtains to transform the sterile waiting room to a Manhattan rooftop or the apartment the men share (scenic design by Janie E. Howland).
Luke is afraid that Adam will die before he is saved, especially since Adam is older and prone to dramatize every ailment (a headache is a brain tumor, a sore leg is thrombosis). Meanwhile, Adam is mystified by Luke's faith and belief in a system that proclaims his sexuality a sin.
"We're all sinners," Luke tells Adam. "We all sin in one way or another. This just happens to be mine."
Luke tries to convince Adam his behavior is okay, because heaven is assured as long as he's accepted Jesus Christ.
Adam is especially troubled by the fact that Luke not only prays before every meal, but also to atone after they've had sex.
"How am I supposed to feel loved for real?" Adam wonders, and later tells Luke, "I want you to love me more than Him," (referring to Luke's love of Jesus).
Others who take part in the hospital vigil for Luke include Brandon (Kevin Kaine), another closeted Bible thumper (who enjoys hook-ups but draws the line at "choosing the lifestyle"); friend Holly (Deb Martin), a self-proclaimed fag hag who owns the candle shop where Luke works; and Luke's divorced parents, the ditzy but warm-hearted motor-mouth Arlene (Amelia Broome) and rigid, deliberately oblivious father Butch (Robert Walsh).
Though the central religious conundrum is between Luke and Adam, and the subterfuge he practices with his parents (de-gaying the apartment before his father visits), other beliefs make cameo appearances in the play.
Holly, a lapsed Catholic, searches for a belief to give life meaning, practicing yoga and participating in Ashrams.
Luke is hospitalized in a Jewish facility where the elevator is programmed to stop on every floor without pushing buttons on the Jewish Sabbath. And, Adam and Luke's apartment has a Jewish mezuzah on the front door, which Luke wants to remove because it's ugly, but Adam wants to leave as he claims, "it protects New Yorkers from evil spirits."
With a light touch, director Scott Edmiston leads his cast of six, making the characters believable, even when their dialogue is preposterous. For example, Luke's mother Arlene comments about the Jewish anesthesiologist include references to his "hooked nose and beanie."
And Luke's father characterizes a Newsweek cover story about the discovery of a new missing link as "porn," claims that most science is false, and feels no compunction about using the "N" word.
However, in the hands of this talented cast, every bit of anguish, anxiety, frustration, pathos, and love is convincing. In fact, in spite of a previous altercation, it falls to Adam to comfort Butch, with the assurance that Luke had told him "when the time comes, I'm ready [to die]."
Depending on one's interpretation, the "Next Fall" of the title could refer, as suggested by SpeakEasy's Director of Marketing Jim Torres, to the Red Sox's post-season hopes. Other possible interpretations include an expulsion from paradise, or Luke's fall from grace by being gay. But, actually, it's the promise that Luke made to Adam early in their relationship, when he promised to come out to his parents "next fall."
That fall never happened.
Perhaps the play's most moving affirmation of faith is found in Holly's recap of the plot of "Our Town," which she encapsulates for Luke's distraught mother. Luke had performed the role of Stage Manager in the Thornton Wilder classic, in which death figures so prominently. One should not take life's small moments for granted and it's important to appreciate life before it's too late.
As Adam observes, "All the doubts, everything I've been questioning all those years. It didn't matter. It was just me and Luke."