(At the Helen Hayes Theater)
‘Next Fall’ is a good play. Not a great one—though it tries to address a few great issues: Life, Death, and Love, to name a couple. The most powerful scene in the work is one that doesn’t take place—the “next fall” that one of two central gay lovers talks of casually in passing that never takes place, because he will be dead, an effect foreshadowed and tenderly illustrated by the transparent curtain that cloaks the other scenes, the lush colors of autumn leaves, painted on trees in a desolare park.
Several of the scenes take place in a hospital waiting room that we don’t really know is a hospital waiting room at first, just characters waiting for something that we’re not really sure about, anymore than we know exactly who the characters are. But one, it will turn out, is the lover of a man we have not yet met, who has been critically injured in a fall. One is his mother, long absent and an apparent addict, a thick-skinned Southern(only a little, Florida, this is not Williams territory)father who has never really acknowledged or wanted to see his son’s homosexuality, an old male friend who was not a love and whose interactions with the other characters seems specious, and a pleasant, unimportant but funny(not toooooooo) blonde who was, apparently, the owner of a candle shop where one of the gay couple worked, who then apparently became a close friend, but not so close that she logically belonged in that waiting room. This, for me, was the part of the play that was most puzzling, and the audience is invited to put it all together as the pieces fall into place, not in chronological order,like a jigsaw of time.
The big question here is not why we love who we love, but why people don’t give each other more of a break,and prize each interaction more, since life is so evanescent. That crystal sentiment echoes and references a far better play, ‘Our Town’, in which the powerfully handsome and energetic Luke, (Patrick Heusinger) making his first entrance in an apparently flashbacked cocktail party tells his soon-to-be partner (Patrick Breen) that he is playing the Stage Manager, when not working as a waiter.
As appealing as the two partners are, and as okay(which is all they are really) as the other characters are, especially Maddie Corman who milks laughs from non-fat lines as the absent mother returned, Cotter Smith as the beef-brained father, and Connie Ray as the delightful blonde candleshop lady that you don’t know what she’s doing in that waiting room, the mention of the other play churns up a yearning for the real drama and sweetness that is life, that too often eludes us. Especially in the theater.
Good enough for a pallid season, but not good enough if Thornton Wilder were still here. If Only.