In the abstract, building a show around a hospital deathwatch might seem way too Grey’s Anatomy for the stage. And indeed, Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts, now at the Blank Canvas Theatre, does fall prey to some of that TV drama weepiness.
But on the way to a questionable ending, this is one of the most genuinely warm and funny scripts in recent memory. And the talented cast, under the compassionate and assured direction of Patrick Ciamacco, misses very few beats in telling this story of love and loss.
Luke, in his early twenties, is in a New York City hospital , having been grievously injured in a car accident. His divorced parents, burly Butch and chatty Arlene, have flown in from Florida, joining Luke’s friends Holly and Brandon in the waiting room. Then 40-year-old Adam arrives, Luke’s partner of four years.
In flashbacks, we see the progression of Adam and Luke’s relationship, from meeting cute in a Heimlich hug at a catered event to their eventual sharing of an apartment. We see them joke about some of their differences, age among them, but there is one divide that seems to grate on both.
While Luke is a devout Christian, saying grace before eating anything and fully believing in the afterlife, Adam is a confirmed agnostic. Try as he might, Luke can’t bring his lover over to the other side of belief.
This conflict is exacerbated in the hospital where Luke’s parents, clueless about their son’s homosexual lifestyle (or are they?), try to deal with Adam’s emotional state.
Using a play structure that intersperses scenes from the tense present day hospital situation and the past, playwright Nauffts carves out distinct characters that are fully realized by the Blank Canvas players.
Lindsay Pier and Jason Elliott Brown, as Holly and Brandon, handle their supporting roles skillfully, finding interesting facets that could easily have been left unplumbed.
As the parents, Jeffery Glover is gruff and entirely believable, casually tossing off bigoted comments while also showing his loving, vulnerable side. As brassy Arlene, Anne McEvoy resists turning her character into a cartoon, thereby succeeding in shaping a woman who feels out of her element but trying to adapt.
The pair of lovers could hardly be better. Timothy J. Allen as Luke shows his devotion to his lover and to his religion in many small ways. These add up to a powerful conflict. And Curt Arnold finds the sweet spot as Adam, modulating his unease with religiosity while trying to advance their relationship.
It is only at the end when one may feel a bit manipulated by the script, as we witness deathbed emotions and an apparent conversion. But before then, it is quite a ride—funny, tender and populated by wildly different people honestly trying to figure out how to live among and with each other.
Through October 21 at the Blank Canvas Theatre, 1305 W. 78th St., #211, blankcanvastheatre.com