Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Obsessing About This FALL By Beverly Creasey

Maybe it’s just me, but I spent a good deal of time at SpeakEasy Stage’s NEXT FALL (playing through Oct. 15th) trying to figure out details of the play – time I think I should have spent letting Geoffrey Nauffts’ script do its work.

Nauffts’ coy, little tragicomedy about the pitfalls of being both gay and fundamentalist Christian has a lot of mighty funny jokes to keep the audience laughing (jokes about emaciated yoga instructors, hairy gym teachers and people who name their children after spices) but jokes don’t necessarily move a story along…or develop “character.”

I tried my darndest to follow the story, which alternates between flashbacks of a romance strained by the compulsion to pray after sex, for one thing….and the hospital where parents, lover(s?) and friend(s?) now wait for news about the aforementioned, injured young man. Alas, I got hopelessly sidetracked wondering if the older woman (Amelia Broome) wringing her hands and babbling in one of those Jim Nabors southern accents* was the present wife or the ex-wife of the bellicose father (Robert Walsh).

And who the heck was the young man in the three piece suit clutching a Bible? Is it his? Is he just holding it for the mother? I never found out, by the by. I did keep finding holes in the story, though… which I thought clearly divided the Christians (mother, father and son) from the heathens (lover, friends). Maybe not. We do learn more much later about the Bible toting friend but not his religion, strangely enough. What we do learn (about his rug and his sexual preferences) doesn’t help at all. He’s only peripheral to the plot, anyway.

Nauffts basically sets up a La Cage Aux Folles tripwire: Will the Bible Belt Floridians find out their son (the charming Dan Roach) is (gasp) gay? Then Nauffts adds gravitas to the premise by excluding his lover (the wonderful Will McGarrahan) from any hospital decisions about his care. While I’m at it, how did the young man’s mother learn a key bit of information from the EMT who rode in her son’s ambulance? She was in Florida! This is New York City. The chances of locating the EMT are slim and none… Since I’m obsessing, why does Nauffts name-drop celebs like Richard Simmons and Paula Poundstone and then conceal Malcolm Forbes’ identity?

When my head wasn’t spinning, I did enjoy director Scott Edmiston’s playful give and take between Roach and McGarrahan and I liked Deb Martin’s marvelously acerbic friend/character but the parents were drawn as such caricatures that we really couldn’t see their suffering (until the lovely moment at play’s end when McGarrahan’s character comforts the father.) I liked the actors, like the director, too, but the play just didn’t do it for me.

* P.S. What’s with this predilection for channeling Jim Nabors’ Gomer Pyle voice whenever a southern accent is called for in a show? This is the second time in a month I’ve encountered that “gol-ly” screech. Nabors was funning. Southerners don’t really sound like that, do they?

Re: Above postscript. I stand corrected. I have it on the highest authority that real southern women indeed do speak like that, in a high sinusoidal cadence. Nevertheless, even if they do speak like that in real life, it's my opinion that on stage it comes across as caricature.