×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Next Fall

Geoffrey Nauffts' "Next Fall," at the Geffen Playhouse, includes clashes over faith, sexuality and family; bright bon mots; a cast full of film and TV luminaries and the play's original helmer, Sheryl Kaller. It's got everything, in fact, except ferocity - the one essential ingredient for making it all work.

With:
Adam Geoffrey Nauffts Luke James Wolk Holly Betsy Brandt Butch Jeff Fahey Arlene Lesley Ann Warren Brandon Ken Barnett

Geoffrey Nauffts’ “Next Fall,” at the Geffen Playhouse, includes clashes over faith, sexuality and family; bright bon mots; a cast full of film and TV luminaries and the play’s original helmer, Sheryl Kaller. It’s got everything, in fact, except ferocity, which unfortunately is the one essential ingredient for making all the other ingredients work. Without characters fighting for high-stakes objectives — and actor Nauffts in particular lets playwright Nauffts down in this regard — the material plays like limp, undernourished melodrama.

The action shifts between past and present, but the future promised by the title is off the table. An errant Manhattan taxi driver has left affable, aspiring actor Luke (James Wolk) in what increasingly appears to be an irreversible coma.

As friends and loved ones, notably lover Adam (Nauffts), cope and wrangle in the hospital waiting room, flashbacks explore the central fact of a tender yet rocky five-year relationship: Luke is a fully invested, born-again Christian, while agnostic Adam can’t imagine how a gay man in 2011 could buy into all that guff. Not to mention pray before meals and after sex.

The play’s engine is Adam’s volatility, seen not just in his abhorrence of fundamentalism but in his multiple career disappointments, raging hypochondria and nagging suspicion that he doesn’t deserve so young and hot a life mate. There’s even a dollop of jealousy, as he eyes optimist Luke’s sunny certainty about our place in the universe.

Adam’s short fuse is evident everywhere in the text, and certainly rage and need were seething within the droll quipping of original Gotham thesp Patrick Breen. At the Geffen, however, Nauffts and Kaller opt for an offhanded, long-suffering take on the character, cutting the guts out of the production.

This Adam constantly retreats, physically and psychologically. His debates with Luke – not the most pungent theological conversations to begin with – are infused with no need to persuade, so they just sit there, lifeless. His baiting of in-laws Butch and Arlene (Jeff Fahey and Lesley Ann Warren) similarly lacks purpose.

Nauffts’ ho-hum reaction, early on, when a “family only” regulation bars him from Luke’s bedside signals the evening’s paucity of passion and increasingly flaccid air. A surprise confrontation with Luke’s dad — who professes ignorance of his son’s lifestyle — carries no more sting than a summer stock revival of “Norman, Is That You?”

Other cast members work diligently despite Kaller’s often glacial pacing and a curiously flat, dull set from Wilson Chin. James Wolk fully inhabits Luke’s faith and fortitude, presenting a romantic idol we can readily accept Adam’s coveting.

Fahey’s a force to be reckoned with, especially when Butch’s facade finally drops, though Arlene’s showpiece monologue would work better if Warren didn’t sit face front in an attitude of “Here comes my monologue.” Ken Barnett brings intelligence and mystery to the afterthought role of a Bible-wielding friend from Luke’s more distant past.

Most welcome of all is Betsy Brandt (of TV’s “Breaking Bad”), transcending gay-guy-gal-pal cliches with honesty and gusto. (She understands Luke’s spirituality: “I have five yoga mats in my closet.”) But candle entrepreneur Holly isn’t ever central to the story, and in the end, comedy relief can only be as effective as the amount of tension the comedy is required to relieve.

Popular on Variety

Next Fall

Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles; 522 seats; $75 top

Production: A Geffen Playhouse presentation of a play in two acts by Geoffrey Nauffts. Directed by Sheryl Kaller. Sets, Wilson Chin; costumes, Kate Bergh; lighting, Jeff Croiter; sound and original music, John Gromada. Opened, reviewed Nov. 2, 2011. Runs through Dec. 4. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast: Adam Geoffrey Nauffts Luke James Wolk Holly Betsy Brandt Butch Jeff Fahey Arlene Lesley Ann Warren Brandon Ken Barnett

More Legit

  • Broadway-Breakfast-Split

    Variety to Celebrate Second Business of Broadway Breakfast With Thomas Schumacher, Diane Paulus and Diablo Cody

    Variety has announced the lineup for its second annual Business of Broadway breakfast presented by City National Bank. Joining the breakfast on Oct. 7 is the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher, who will take part in the event’s keynote conversation. In his position, Thomas oversees the company’s worldwide stage productions, which [...]

  • Sue Wagner John Johnson

    Tony-Winning Producers Sue Wagner and John Johnson Announce New Venture, Wagner Johnson Productions

    Sue Wagner and John Johnson, seven-time Tony award-winning producers, announced Wednesday that they have embarked on a new theatrical business venture, Wagner Johnson Productions. Under the name, they will produce and general manage a wide scope of theater productions. One of Wagner Johnson Productions’ current projects is a musical rendition of “Almost Famous,” which will [...]

  • Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne

    Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne Starring in Broadway Revival of 'American Buffalo'

    Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell will star in an upcoming Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” The show marks Rockwell’s first appearance on the Great White Way since his 2014 performance in the revival of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” The five-year absence saw him pick up an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, [...]

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content