Friday, June 05, 2009

Religion and atheism in "Next Fall"

Here is a positive review for an interesting play, Next Fall. It focuses on conversations between a committed atheist and a committed Christian - as a gay couple.
Their big problem isn’t the age difference or the good-looks gap. (Luke is a hottie; Adam, a bit of a nebbish, with more than a touch of the hypochondriacal, fatalistic Woody Allen of “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan.”) It’s that Luke, a hard-core Christian from Florida, believes that the man he loves is going to hell. Not for having sex with men, mind you (that’s just sinning and can be forgiven on Judgment Day), but for not believing in Jesus. Questioned by Adam, Luke admits uncomfortably that the killers of Matthew Shepard — the victim of a much-publicized hate crime in 1998 — would go to heaven were they to accept Jesus, while Mr. Shepard would not, unless he too had chosen to believe. seems that the play doesn't shy away from tough questions. The issues around religion, of course, extend to other characters as well:

These arguments, which expand to include other characters, never have the stiffness of conscious debate. Everything Luke and Adam say to each other is as rooted in personality as in ideology. And the same is true of everyone else: Luke’s divorced parents, Butch (Cotter Smith), a born-again fundamentalist, and Arlene (Connie Ray), a reformed wild woman of Southern-fried eccentricities; Holly (Maddie Corman), a candle store owner and Adam’s longtime confidante; and Brandon (Sean Dugan), an old pal of Luke’s who won’t accept his friend’s relationship with Adam.

Mr. Nauffts lets his characters brush up against, and occasionally have at, one another in ways that fall into patterns only when you think about them later. The faiths to which each of these people cling come into focus sideways, through the common barter of daily conversation. No one, it seems, is without a religion of some sort, whether it’s Holly’s commitment to self-help groups, Butch’s fierce creationism or even Adam’s ritualistic hypochondria. Religions, with their creeds and rules for behavior, may make life simpler, as Luke insists to Adam. But people are messy, and no one believes in the same way.
This last point is essential for science-religion debates also. We have to appreciate the diversity of the ways people believe or not-believe - and many apparent contradictions that we all live by.
For the play to work, though, what’s most important is that you believe that despite their essential dissimilarities, Luke and Adam were meant to be together. And you do, thanks in large part to the easygoing chemistry between Mr. Breen’s funny, uptight Adam and Mr. Heusinger’s puppyish Luke. They, like all of us, contain multitudes of contradictions, which in this case somehow manage to click into a shaky but wonderful symbiosis. Love, after all, is every bit as preposterous, subjective and inexplicable as faith itself.
Read the full review here and a short audio slide show with the author here. The play is at Peter Jay Sharp theater in New York. If you are in NYC, check it out. It ends on July 5th.


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