Next Fall at Southwark PlayhouseCultureTheatre
In a broad, punchline-heavy sitcom style, Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall stomps its way through a gay love story. Luke is religious, Adam is not, and while they can compromise in other areas of their relationship, neither is willing to give ground on the issue of faith.
The narrative is told through flashbacks to important scenes in their relationship, skipping forward frequently to a hospital. Luke has been in a car crash: his family and Adam wait to find out whether he has survived surgery.
Religious belief is only afforded a facile treatment here. Luke and his family believe in the literal truth of the Bible, they believe in Noah’s Ark and dismiss evolution. They have a shallow understanding of faith, but their beliefs are important to them and are treated with scorn by Adam. Nauffts perpetuates regressive stereotypes of religious zealots and camp, scornful gay people. The intersection between sexuality and faith is badly managed, with the play unfairly portraying both themes.
That said, Nauffts has created rich and distinct characters – made richer by some great performances. Nancy Crane as Arlene, Luke’s foot-in-mouth, politically incorrect mother evokes the biggest laughs and jerks the biggest tears. Luke is not out to his parents, but it’s his mother who works it out, who reveals her knowledge to Adam in the sweetest, subtlest way and tries to keep the peace between everyone – including Luke’s dad Butch (Mitchell Mullen). Mullen is menacing, threatening as a typical, straight-laced southern dad. He sees nothing wrong with calling people “fags”, disdains anything that strays from the word of God, but Mullen tempers this out-and-out machismo with tenderness at important moments.
Adam and his friend Holly are not particularly appealing as characters. They are self-absorbed and callous. Adam is cynical, which makes for some witty lines but little else. Luke’s botched coming out to his father is a high point in a generally strong play that is let down by its mismanaged treatment of sexuality and faith.
Photo: Robert Workman
Next Fall is on at Southwark Playhouse until 25th October 2014, for further information or to book visit here.