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'Next Fall': A love story that requires faith

Patrick Breen (Adam), Patrick Heusinger (Luke) in Broadway

Patrick Breen (Adam), Patrick Heusinger (Luke) in Broadway production of Geoffrey Nauffts play NEXT FALL, produced by Elton John & David Furnish. Opens at the Helen Hayes Theatre March 11. Credit: Carol Rosegg

'Next Fall" is a love story about belief. I'm afraid I am not a believer - not in the love story or in the play.

Geoffrey Nauffts' drama, which has leaped to Broadway after a well-received run Off-Broadway last summer, has been embraced by its admirers as a thoughtful and sensitive exploration of a five-year relationship between two gay men of differing faiths in New York. It feels more like a lightweight made-for-TV deathbed soaper about two guys who, once they discovered they have

incompatible worldviews, should have shared a little hot chemistry for a couple of weeks - but never, never, never a life.

Luke (well played like a hunky sunbeam by Patrick Heusinger) is a struggling young actor and, except for the gay part, devoted born-again Christian from Tallahassee. Adam (finely delineated in sharp edges by Patrick Breen) is 40, a disappointed writer, hypochondriac and casual agnostic. They meet cute. They move in together. They laugh and cuddle and make bright small talk.

But Luke prays after sex and worries that Adam, who has not accepted Christ, will not join him in heaven after the rapture or death, I guess whichever comes first. Many scenes are in a hospital waiting room, a pristine and private artificial construct where no other people come to worry about their loved ones and where cell phones actually work.

Also, Luke has never come out to his long-divorced parents - that is, his loving but bigoted Christian-soldier of a father (Cotter Smith) or his babbling, recovering train-wreck of a mother (Connie Ray). After Luke is critically injured in a traffic accident, they gather in the hospital along with the lovers' female friend and new-age cliche (Maddie Corman) and an intriguing uptight fellow in a business suit (Sean Dugan), one of Luke's former Christian friends, about whom not enough is ever known.

The relationship between Luke and Adam is told in flashbacks, which director Sheryl Kaller and designer Wilson Chin maneuver with grace. Nauffts, an accomplished actor and artistic director of Naked Angels, where the play originated, creates individual characters with a breezy style. But the theological conflict is far too big and messy for such a tidy, ordinary play.

WHAT "Next Fall"

WHERE Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th St.

INFO $116.50; 212-239-6200;

BOTTOM LINE Too slight for the subject

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