Frequent references are made to the play Our Town during the play Next Fall . Thorton Wilder’s classic show, currently in performances at the Barrow Street theater, is a valentine to old-fashioned home life with small town folks. In contrast, Next Fall could be called Our City or even Our Borough. This play grapples with much more modern and complex issues than the much older script, but it also captures the same sentiments as Wilder’s: the value of life, living in the present moment and the struggles of loving someone. And they are presented in an appealing, intelligent and thought-provoking production, which is a rare thing on Broadway these days, indeed.
Transferred to Broadway after a successful off-Broadway run last summer, Next Fall chronicles the relationship between Adam (Patrick Breen) and Luke (Patrick Heusinger). Adam, a sarcastic, self-depricating, confused middle-aged man is surprised when the much younger, much more cheerful (and studly) Luke expresses his attraction to him. Another enormous contrast between the two is that Luke is a devout Christian who considers homosexuality to be a sin and believes that all non-believers are going to hell, while Adam is an outspoken agnostic who refuses to accept Luke’s opinions without debate (and a lot of it). Another obstacle the two face is that Luke has not come out to his parents and Adam is incessantly bothered by that fact.
The play opens in a hospital waiting room, where Luke’s loved ones have gathered after he was hit by a taxi driver who ran off of the road. Luke’s flighty chatterbox of a mother (appealingly acted by Connie Ray) and his stoic, steadfast and appropriately named father Butch (Cotter Smith) are there, as well as Luke’s friend Brandon (Sean Dugan) and employer Holly (a charming Maddie Corman) are also waiting. The play moves swiftly between the present-day moments of waiting and flashbacks of Adam and Luke’s relationship, a transition made easy by the sleekly designed, yet undeniably authentic sets by Wilson Chin. We see Adam and Luke’s initial meeting, the day they move in together and numerous scenes in between.
These scenes are filled with witty, creative and original dialogue, peppered with some light-hearted moments of wit. (A few of my personal favorites included Adam’s statement, “The only reason we judge you is because you go around judging everyone else…You have a whole day named after it!” and a reference to a friend naming her child “mustard seed,” which was corrected to be “saffron.”
These scenes are gripping to watch, perhaps because they feel so authentic. The easy chemistry between the uptight, hypochondriac Adam and the eager, puppyish Luke are comfortable and charming, despite the constant bickering between the two about Luke’s faith. The quiet moments between the couple, as they lie on the couch in each other’s arms, are real. And there isn’t much higher praise that can be given to a performance than that.