By Solange De Santis
Religion News Service
NEW YORK (RNS) A new Broadway play that has been nominated for a couple of Tony awards features a character that might seem rarer than a unicorn: a gay evangelical.
"Next Fall," by Geoffrey Nauffts, has already won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best New American Play on Broadway, and is up for Best Play and Best Director at the Tony Awards, to be broadcast on Sunday (June 13.)
The production is particularly timely, given the conflicts taking place within many denominations about the place of gay Christians and whether the Bible condemns homosexuality.
(Another Broadway show with faith themes that is up for a couple of Tonys is "Everyday Rapture," in which actress Sherie Rene Scott, torn between Jesus and Judy Garland, travels a musical journey from "Mennonite to Manhattanite.")
The title "Next Fall," which has the ring of Genesis about it, refers in the play to when evangelical character Luke (played by Patrick Heusinger), plans to reveal to his parents he's gay.
But as the play opens it looks like he might not get the chance.
He's been in a severe automobile accident and is comatose in a hospital. His partner of four years, Adam (Patrick Breen), paces the waiting room, along with two friends and Luke's divorced parents.
Nauffts alternates scenes between the hospital and flashbacks to Luke and Adam's relationship to tell a faith story of subtle ambiguity.
Adam, a classic urban neurotic with no faith, first realizes his partner holds beliefs he might not share when Luke does something weird before eating: pray.
"Is that an everyday occurrence?" Adam wants to know. He asks whether Luke is really gay, since all the Christians he knows consider homosexuality a sin.
Luke, a Southern boy, who seems to have found a serene way to accept both himself and his faith, cheerfully answers, "We're all sinners. This one happens to be mine."
Since he has accepted Christ as his savior, he explains, he will go to heaven despite his sins. Adam wonders if killers, such as those who murdered gay victim Matthew Shepard, would go to heaven if they had accepted Christ, while Shepard, who was not a Christian, would not.
"Can we change the subject?" Luke responds.
As the play develops, it becomes apparent that Luke is more conflicted than he wishes to admit. When his father, Butch, (Cotter Smith) phones to say he'll be dropping by, Luke rushes around trying to "de-gay" the apartment, hiding the Truman Capote biography, erotic photographs, and Adam, who he asks to disappear.
Their relationship is either an unlikely pairing, or a testament to the enduring mysteries of love. Adam hangs in there despite what he sees as Luke's quirks: "He's afraid I'll die before I accept Christ and we won't be in the afterlife together."
Perhaps their union isn't so far-fetched. Among Internet postings in response to the play, one man writing on The New York Times' website as Brian, from Philadelphia, said he has "endured" his partner's "ingrained, intractable Catholicism," and even attended Mass with him.
"It is because I love this guy that I allow him to be what he apparently needs to be," he wrote.
What lifts the play above the level of polemic is that none of the characters are caricatures, and the acting and directing are poignant, such as when Luke asks Adam, "Is it so wrong that I want you to go to heaven?"
Luke is clearly liberal: he approves of abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research--areas where he would differ from many evangelicals. His father, Butch (the character names are a bit obvious), takes a more conservative view--marked in the play by his distrust in Darwin's theory of evolution.
But Butch and one of Luke's friends, Brandon (Sean Dugan), who is even more deeply conflicted about homosexuality and Christianity, are not written or played as monsters.
At the play's conclusion, after a crisis at the hospital concerning Luke, Adam says, "finally, I believed."
He may be referring to his relationship with his partner or to religious faith. He follows by telling another character, "My name is Adam," an intriguing reference to the first man of the Bible and a sense of renewed life.
Is his new life enriched by faith or blessedly free of it? "Next Fall," like life, doesn't provide easy answers.