Gay rights, religion the focus of San Jose Rep’s ‘Next Fall’

Less than three weeks into former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom’s first term in 2004, he made a decision that kick-started a wild and wonderful 29 days in the Bay Area and throughout the world.

Or, depending on what prism one might look through, 29 days full of heathenism, where gay couples and the people who love them spat in the face of all things holy.

The issue was gay marriage. After attending President George W. Bush’s state-of -the-union address earlier in the year in which gay marriage was denounced, Newsom ordered his city clerk to begin the process of issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. By the time the Supreme Court of California issued a stay to stop performing same-sex marriages on March 11th, more than 4,000 couples were married.

“I think we’re on firm legal footing and legal grounds, and certainly I believe very strongly and passionately we’re on the right moral ground,” Newsom told CNN at the time.

It is that morality that continues to come into question more than anything. Now that the legal issue has been established at the United States Supreme Court level, morality continues to stay at the forefront of the argument. And that argument centers around six to twelve passages in the bible that addresses homosexuality.

It is an argument that is clear to Luke, an actor who works sparingly. It’s also very clear to his partner Adam, a good, responsible adult. Luke is a devout Christian, yet Adam is a strong atheist.

Adam (Danny Scheie, right) is a responsible but neurotic atheist, while Luke (Adam Shonkwiler, left) is an impulsive, underemployed actor and a devout Christian in San Jose Rep’s Bay Area Premiere of Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts. (Photo by Kevin Berne)
Adam (Danny Scheie, right) is a responsible but neurotic atheist, while Luke (Adam Shonkwiler, left) is an impulsive, underemployed actor and a devout Christian in San Jose Rep’s Bay Area Premiere of Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts. (Photo by Kevin Berne)

How do these two lovers reconcile their issues? This is an odd couple that makes Oscar Madison and Felix Unger look like soul mates.

Geoffrey Nauffts Tony Award-nominated play “Next Fall” is San Jose Repertory Theatre’s latest offering, opening Wednesday, Oct. 23rd. With the ruling of the United States Supreme Court this past summer that the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, is unconstitutional, the timing of the play is impeccable. Whatever perch someone sits on as they view issues of gay marriage and gay rights, a play such as this one is an opportunity to help facilitate healthy discourse on the issue.

“We need to look at things from multiple perspectives, which enables dialogue and understanding,” said Kirsten Brandt, the associate artistic director of the Rep and the show’s director. “All the characters in this play are questioned as to where they stand, whether it’s gay rights or end of life choices.

“We all have a choice to make or an opportunity to look at the issues without being myopic. The through line for every character is what holds the play together.”

Popular Bay Area performer Danny Scheie, who plays Adam, is thrilled to be performing in a show in which he shares a personal connection. For him, being involved with a show that looks so unflinchingly at tough issues is a bit of a departure for the actor who self-describes his most common roles as “classical, freakish, non-realistic sort of stuff.”

The chance to play a character in a play with so much depth, as well as the opportunity to dramatize so many personal issues is very exciting for Scheie, especially the aspect of the play that deals with coming out.

“The issues of the play are so up for me, as I was raised Christian, and I find myself thinking of this a lot and resting with it.” said Scheie. “No matter how evolved you think you are, there is still this incredible weirdness of shame, and everybody who is gay has a history of process that is different from straight people who have never had to come out.”

Scheie has also had to deal with many of the play’s issues on a personal level, which certainly informed the texture he brought to the role. Scheie’s partner passed away in 2000 from cancer, and his current husband was being treated for cancer only a year ago.

“Dealing with the hospital world of the play, as well as dealing with your lover’s parents is incredibly intimate terrain,” said Scheie. “As much as I love playing characters in Shakespeare, there is not the level of intimacy with those characters. This character just lands there, and it’s impossible not to open up and use those wounds, which is great.”

Brandt is ecstatic about the material, but even more excited about the possibilities of the show to express the true definition of equality.

“I hope the show sparks conversations about human rights on one level and tolerance on another level,” said Brandt. “There are big issues of gay rights, particularly what’s been happening in our country as of late, and how communities have come together to say that everyone has rights.

“The play is also about religion and faith, allowing people to choose the way in which they want to believe.”

A simplistic view is to look at the two principal characters and wonder how the heck they got together in the first place. But what’s important is that in the bible, Jesus Christ said plenty about love, yet not one word about homosexuality. It’s a takeaway that is at heart of gay rights, exemplified beautifully by Newsom’s vision more than nine years ago. It’s also something that Scheie believes religion should be all about.

“Hook into the love. If it’s not about love, why have a religion?”


San Jose Repertory Theatre presents “Next Fall”
Written by Geoffrey Nauffts
Directed by Kirsten Brandt
Oct. 23rd – Nov. 10th
San Jose Repertory Theatre
101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose, CA
Tickets range from $14.50 to $69
For tickets, call (408) 367-7255 or visit


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