A couple divided by faith and separated by a deadly accident is the basis for Next Fall, the topical drama by Geoffrey Nauffts that was well-received on Broadway a few years ago. Though it never quite merits the praise lavished upon its initial runs, the skillfully staged Bay Area premiere at San Jose Rep, directed by Kirsten Brandt, is nonetheless something to behold.

The first act gets off to a shaky start, but it doesn’t take long for the play to build momentum as the friends and family of injured, unconscious Luke (Adam Shonkwiler) begin assembling in a hospital waiting room. Chief among them is Luke’s partner Adam (Danny Scheie, best known for his work with Shakespeare Santa Cruz). Shifting between this setting and flashbacks, we see the conflicted romance between the two men: Adam is an atheist—also out and proud—while Luke is a devout Christian who isn’t quite so out.

Luke’s Christianity isn’t the feel-good kind either; he believes that Adam is destined for hell, not for being gay, but rather for his failure to accept Jesus as his savior. Luke isn’t out to his parents, which leads to some interesting situations: these can be humorous, like the awkward exchange between Adam and Luke’s visiting father (James Carpenter) in a hastily “de-gayed” apartment. They can also be heartbreaking, as when Adam is barred from visiting his ailing partner in the hospital. Some critics have objected to this latter device, pointing out that most of today’s hospitals recognize the visitation rights of same-sex couples. However, in light of still-pervasive homophobia, it seems naïve to think that discrimination never occurs in this regard.

Rounding out the cast are Lindsey Gates as Holly, one half of a Will and Grace-style relationship with Adam, Ryan Tasker as one of Luke’s fellow gay Christians, and the delightful Rachel Harker as Luke’s mother. The cast does great things with characters that could easily have been mere stock types (the closeted conservative gay, the urban neurotic), and it is no overstatement to call them superb. Even Luke’s conservative hard-ass father receives a strikingly human portrayal by Carpenter, and Scheie can coax big laughs out of quips which, coming from a lesser actor, would barely provoke a weak grin.