Playwright: Geoffrey Nauffts. At: AstonRep (sic) Theatre at BoHo Theatre, 7016 N. Glenwood Ave. Tickets: 1-773-828-9129; www.astonrep.com; $20. Runs through: May 25
Next Fall wants to be an important play about being gay and Christian, but author Geoffrey Nauffts encumbers it with tons of baggage unrelated to his central premise. Using alternating scenes of present and past, he examines the five-year relationship of New York City lovers Adam and Luke (yes, carefully chosen Old and New Testament names) until a critical accident leaves Luke comatose in the hospital. Luke is Christian while Adam is casually atheist (meaning he really hasn't thought about religion). Crucially, Luke is not out to his parents, of whom his dominating father is a born-again, anti-gay, anti-Semitic Southern bigot.
That's enough meat right there, but Nauffts layers on additional issues, among them a significant age difference between Adam and Luke, a conflict between Luke's divorced parents and the presence of two friends, wise-cracking Holly and solemn Brandon. Problem is, the issues and friends do not affect the outcome one wit, so why bother? The play is overburdened with exposition rather than theme as Nauffts throws everyone together at the hospital in the opening scene, and then labors to explain issues and provide backstories. Adam debates explaining his presence explicitly to the folks, thereby outing Luke. Indeed, coming out becomes the play's central focus in both present and past, but it's not the central premise, which is (remember) about being gay and Christian.
Legions of men and women are happily both gay and Christian, and many denominations/congregations welcome them. Luke, however, believes same-sex desire is sinful and says a prayer after sex with Adam, we are told. Luke's similarly devout gay friend, Brandon, believes the sin of sex can be forgiven but same-sex love (that is, commitment) is unpardonable, an attitude that perversely twists the concepts of Christian love and repentance.
Nauffts suggests several alternative faith systems but develops none: Luke's parents once put faith in psychedelics while Holly believes in yoga and crystals. If only Naufft had made faith itself the focus of the play, and provided in Brandon a guiltless gay Christian in contrast to Luke to energize a thematic dialogue ... but that's a different play.
Director Derek Bertelsen and his six-person cast struggle earnestly and fairly successfully with this oddly-shaped work in which the father, appropriately named Butch, is the only character who undergoes a change even though he's not the play's hero, or shouldn't be. As assertively played by Jim Morley, Butch makes the gay characters seem unmanly by contrast, but the fault is not Morley's performance. The lovers are played by nicely sculpted Mark Jacob Chaitlin (Luke) and affable Ryan Hamlin (Adam), who could be a touch more charming and less neurotic. Completing the cast are Curtis Jackson (Brandon), Lona Livingston (mother) and Aja Wilshire (Holly).