LOVE CONQUERS ALL Geoffrey Nauffts tale is familiar, but the telling — by him and the SpeakEasy production — is fresh and eloquent.
It's a story you've heard before: a young gay man, raised by Bible-thumping Southern parents who would disown him if he were to come out, moves to New York City. He creates a new life for himself, finds a steady boyfriend and hopes to settle down — but he still can't bring himself to be honest with his family, especially his hyper-masculine, homophobic father.
Geoffrey Nauffts's first-ever play Next Fall does not tell a new and different tale about homosexuality in America, but the story hardly needs twists and turns. It is elegant in its simplicity and honesty, told in a series of conversations and flashbacks. The characters at first appear to fall neatly into archetypes — a pair of hand-wringing Southern parents, a female best friend who self-identifies as a "fag hag" — but they soon emerge as fully realized, intricate personalities, brought to life by a cast of ringers in SpeakEasy Stage's production, directed by Scott Edmiston (at the Roberts Studio Theatre through October 15).
The true protagonist of the show is not the young, closeted Luke (Dan Roach), but rather his much older boyfriend Adam (Will McGarrahan), saved from a mid-life crisis by Luke's support and the hope of their nascent relationship. The one unusual catch of their union is that Luke has not entirely renounced Christianity. Luke prays before he eats, which strikes Adam as more quirky than concerning, but he also prays after he has sex, believing homosexuality is a sin for which he must atone. Luke explains that his rocky childhood with now-divorced parents who aren't as saintly as they seem caused him to cling ever harder to his faith in God, but he now sees his faith not as a coping mechanism but as a vital part of him. Roach's portrayal blends a Jesus-like gentle patience (with himself and everyone else) and just a touch of the "smugness" that Adam sees in him and resents. Despite his name, Adam hardly sees himself as one of God's children, and such is the main disagreement between the pair — that, and Luke's unwillingness to come out to his parents, no matter that his relationship with Adam grows more serious each day.
All of this is revealed in flashbacks, with the set and the plot revolving around a hospital waiting room. Luke's in surgery after being hit by a cab, and so Adam, his best friend Holly, Luke's parents, and Luke's mysterious Bible-clutching friend Brandon have all gathered to make small talk and hope for Luke's recovery. It's a classic stuck-in-an-elevator situation, and the mismatched group's conversations run the gamut from hilarious to heartbreaking. Deb Martin's Holly forges an unexpected bond with Luke's mother Arlene (Amelia Broome), who turns out to have a serious drug problem, and more of a don't-ask-don't-tell policy regarding Luke's sexuality. Luke's father Butch (Robert Walsh) is the real problem here, from his misogynist condescension towards his ex-wife, to the blinders he wears to any hint about Luke's sexuality.
, Religion, Family, homophobia, More