Reviewed by Judy Richter
In Geoffrey Nauffts' "Next Fall," presented by San Jose Repertory Theatre, one obstacle is that the 40ish Adam (Danny Scheie) is about 20 years older than Luke (Adam Shonkwiler). A greater obstacle is that Adam is a nonbeliever while Luke is a fundamentalist Christian. The age difference results mainly in lighthearted teasing, but the religious difference is tougher.
And there's one more problem: Luke hasn't come out to his divorced parents. Therefore, when Luke is hit by a taxi and hospitalized, they can't understand why Adam is so insistent on seeing Luke.
It may be that Luke's fundamentalist, bigoted father, Butch (James Carpenter), could have an inkling that Luke is gay, but he won't acknowledge it, not even to himself. Having been a free spirit in her younger days, Luke's mother, Arlene (Rachel Harker), probably would be more accepting if she knew.
The action shifts between the present in the hospital and the past, starting with the night that Luke and Adam met and continuing at various times in their relationship. One constant in their lives is Holly, a straight friend who owns the candle shop where they have worked. As portrayed by Lindsey Gates, Holly is funny, supportive and straightforward, a kind of rock for them.
The play's sixth character is Brandon (Ryan Tasker), Luke's Christian friend who's less even accepting of his own homosexuality.
Director Kirsten Brandt guides the talented cast with a sensitive hand, allowing the humor to come through and stressing poignancy rather than pathos. Playing Adam, Scheie, a veteran Bay Area actor who often plays over-the-top characters, shows deeper emotions here while allowing some of his comedic skills to come through.
Shonkwiler's Luke is a fun guy most of the time, but as a believer in heaven and hell, he's worried about Adam's fate. He's also worried about coming out to his father. When Butch says he's coming to New York from his Florida home, Luke tries to "de-gay" the apartment he shares with Adam and asks Adam to leave for a few hours. This leads to one of the play's best scenes when Luke goes out on an errand and Butch arrives early, leading to an uncomfortable first meeting between him and Adam. Carpenter, another veteran Bay Area actor, plays well off Scheie in this scene and others.
More fine acting comes from Harker as Arlene especially when she tells Adam about how she tried to reach out to a young Luke after being absent from most of his life.
Scenic designer Annie Smart's set easily adapts to shifting scenes, as do Cathleen Edwards' costumes. Lighting by Dawn Chiang and sound by Steve Schoenbeck enhance this Bay Area premiere of the Tony-nominated play.
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