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Theater Review: "Next Fall"

Tony Bejarano as Adam, Rob Conway as Luke
Photo credit:
Adriana Zuniga Williams

“Next Fall” is when Luke (Rob Conway) says he’ll tell his fundamentalist parents he’s gay. Dad Butch (James Tarbert) -- a burly Bible-thumper, and mom Arlene (Susan Bray – a motormouth and recovered wild woman – are not likely to take it well.

But by next fall, Luke’s little brother will go off to college, and Luke figures at least the kid won’t have to deal with the verbal explosion such a revelation will cause.

It’s not that Luke has spurned religion.

He thinks what he’s doing is sinful; that’s why he prays for forgiveness every time he “falls.”

Geoffrey Nauffts’ “Next Fall” plays through March 25 at OnStage Playhouse, directed by Susan Stratton.

Luke’s lover Adam (Tony Bejarano) is older, nebbishy and a grouchy agnostic.

Luke seems an odd choice of partner for this unbeliever, who is unable to comprehend how anyone can believe what Luke says he does. The two have had more than a few ouchy discussions about religion over their five-year relationship.

A potentially fatal accident has put Luke in the hospital, and friends and family gather in the ICU waiting room. In the group is Holly (Kira Vine), owner of the candle shop where wannabe actor Luke works.

Luke’s long-divorced parents fly in from Florida.

The impatient Butch brooks no nonsense and barges in, braying about the stupidity of the cab driver, ambulance driver and various others. (Being gay would probably also qualify as nonsense, but Butch refuses to admit that he suspects Luke is in that group.)

Mom Arlene’s former life as a wild woman caused her to miss much of Luke’s childhood, but she has a heart of gold.

The sixth, rather puzzling character is Luke’s old friend Brandon (Chris Tenney), a Bible-wielding gay who allows himself sex but not love.

In time shifts over the past five years, we see the progression of Luke and Adam’s relationship, including one scene where Luke rushes to “de-gay” the apartment (and send Adam out) to prepare for a sudden visit from Butch. 

I confess to a certain impatience when it comes to any religion which can see love as sinful, so I find “Next Fall” more annoying than entertaining, and the assertion that Luke and Adam would have lasted five years with a difference that basic incredible.

The character of Brandon is even more puzzling, and the notion that casual sex is okay (or at least forgivable) when commitment is not strikes me as loony.

That aside, this cast is as convincing as these characters can be, especially Tarbert and Bray as the unambiguous if unbending Butch and the kind and talky Arlene. 

Vine’s Holly is excellent as the yoga-inspired candle shop owner, injecting a note of sanity into the proceedings.

Bejarano’s Adam and Conway’s Luke seem ill-suited in the flashbacks, but Adam’s anger is real when Butch tries to deny him access to Luke’s room on the grounds that he’s not “family.” 

Tenney’s Brandon gave me reality problems when he started in on what is and isn’t forgivable in his world, but he seems as convincing as this argument can be.

Bruce Wilde’s set design works well (converting from hospital waiting room to Adam and Luke’s small apartment), though it requires a lot of furniture pushing from the cast, and the hospital waiting room seems a bit more comfortable than ones I’ve been in.

Lighting and sound are nicely handled by Chad Oakley and Steve Murdock. Tony Bejarano designed the costumes and projections are handled by Stratton and Bruce Wilde.

“Next Fall” is a flawed play, but director Susan Stratton and her committed cast make it work about as well as it can.

The details

“Next Fall” plays through March 25, 2017 at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Avenue (near F Street), Chula Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 422-7787 or www.onstageplayhouse.org