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Romance and religion

Gay-themed play explores prickly subjects with humor

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‘Next Fall’
Round House Theatre
Through Feb. 26

Chris Dinolfo as Luke, left, and Tom Story as Adam in ‘Next Fall’ at Round House Theatre. (Photo by Danisha Crosby; courtesy Round House)

Sex and spirituality — or the lack thereof — intersect in thought-provoking ways in the flawed-but-worthy play ‘Next Fall,” a 2009 piece that’s enjoying a post-Broadway local run at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Md.

Luke (Chris Dinolfo) and Adam (Tom Story) meet when the former gives the latter the Heimlich maneuver to ease a panic attack at a party. He later admits it was just an excuse to get his arms around Adam, who’s older (he reluctantly admits to 40), a neurotic hypochondriac drifting through life. Luke is young and cute, a promising actor whose career is about to take off. Opposites attract, of course, and a one-night stand turns into a long-term committed relationship.

The premise may sound like a Hollywood screwball comedy, but playwright Geoffrey Nauffts (who’s played Adam in previous productions) soon dives into more serious territory. There’s another serious difference between the two men — Luke’s a devout fundamentalist Christian and Adam’s a committed agnostic. And unlike a typical screwball comedy, Nauffts’ fascinating script focuses not so much on what brings the characters together in the first place, but on what keeps them together over the years.

The play opens in a hospital. Luke has been struck by a taxi and his anxious family and friends keep vigil in the hospital waiting room. They have been summoned by the tightly wound Brandon (Alexander Strain in a somewhat underwritten role), Luke’s estranged friend who’s a thriving real estate mogul who is also struggling with Christianity and homosexuality. Adam’s friend Holly (Dawn Ursula) runs the candle shop where both Luke and Adam work at various times and who searches for meaning (and men) in a variety of New Age activities. Luke’s divorced parents have arrived from Tallahassee, Fla. Arlene (Kathryn Kelley) is fighting her own demons and the ruggedly pious Butch (Kevin Cutts) willfully ignores the signs that his son is gay. As the present-day medical drama unfolds, flashbacks move fluidly through time, tracing how the two men meet, move in together and negotiate the many compromises necessary in any relationship.

Unfortunately, the heavy-handed production at Round House Theatre frequently tramples on Nauffts’ finely wrought structure and delicately crafted language. Where the scenes should flow seamlessly together, director Mark Ramont and his design team stop the action cold after every scene with slow fades, overwrought music and awkward set changes. These painful transitions stop the play in its tracks, leaving the actors to struggle to regain their momentum when the action resumes.

This fumbling treatment also extends to some of the acting. Kelley struggles unsuccessfully with the role of Luke’s troubled hardscrabble mother Arlene who abandoned Luke when he was a toddler. She never finds her way through the complex vocal and emotional shadings of the character, missing the potent combination of desperation and guilt and anger that fuel the character and fighting against the complex rhythms of the dialogue.

Luckily, Story and Dinolfo bring passion and electricity to the central characters. The openly gay actors display an easy physicality in their onstage relationship. We see the deep physical and emotional bonds that pull them together and we also see the tense spiritual doubts that push them apart. Luke desperately and sincerely wishes that Adam could find faith so they can spend eternity together. Adam hates the fact that Luke prays for forgiveness after they have sex and refuses to come out to his parents. Story and Dinolfo make these tensions palpable and draw us into their compelling story.

They also expertly use Nauffts’ rich language to full effect. For all its serious themes and moving drama, “Next Fall” is often funny. Among other things, Nauffts explores the intriguing way humor is used in different situations: as a strategic defense, as a coping mechanism, as a weapon, as seduction, as social lubricant, as a world view. He also depicts spirituality in a sensitive and robust manner, embracing the many ways his characters find their way through an uncertain religious and ethical universe. All of them are on serious spiritual quests, whether they acknowledge it or not, and these issues come naturally to the fore as Luke battles for his life. Nauffts also captures the ebb and flow of the various long-term relationships with nuance and naturalness. It’s a rare play that tells us everything we need to know about the characters yet leaves us wanting more.

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Out & About

Mayor’s office to host Pride tie-dye party

Guests to make colorful shirts for ‘PEACE. LOVE. REVOLUTION’ theme

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(Photo by Prime Look/Bigstock)

The Mayor’s Office for LGBTQ Affairs will host “Love Out Loud: Tie Dye Party for Pride” on Wednesday, June 7 at 5 p.m. at the Frank D. Reeves Center of Municipal Affairs.

The event, hosted along with the DC Center for the LGBT Community and Capital Pride Alliance, will be an afternoon for community and artistry. Guests are encouraged to bring their creativity to make some colorful tie-dye shirts in line with this year’s Pride theme, “PEACE. LOVE. REVOLUTION.”

This event is free to attend and more details are available on Eventbrite

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Out & About

D.C. to celebrate LGBTQ poetry

Pride Poem-a-Day presents second installation

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(Screen capture via Vimeo)

DC Pride Poem-a-Day will present its second installation of short videos featuring LGBTQ poetry from the Washington, D.C. area to celebrate Pride month.

A new video will be released each day in June and will feature different poets reading an original poem on the theme of “heritage.”

The videos highlight LGBTQ poets from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, races, and countries of origin, and also poets from minority religions, multi-lingual, and disabled. 
To access the poetry, visit DC Pride Poems’ website.

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Calendar

Calendar: June 2-8

LGBTQ events in the days to come

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Friday, June 2

Center Aging: Friday Tea Time will be at 2 p.m. on Zoom. This event is a social hour for older LGBTQ+ adults. Guests can bring a beverage of choice. For more information, contact [email protected].

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Pride Kickoff Social” at 7 p.m. at The Commentary. This event is ideal to make new friends in the LGBTQ community and enjoy the bottomless happy hour specials at Puro Gusto. Admission is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Saturday, June 3

Virtual Yoga Class with Jesse Z. will be at 12 p.m. online. This is a weekly class focusing on yoga, breath work, and meditation. Guests are encouraged to RSVP on the DC Center’s website, providing your name, email address, and zip code, along with any questions you may have. A link to the event will be sent at 6 pm the day before.

LGBTQ People of Color Support Group will be at 1 p.m. on Zoom. LGBTQ People of Color can come together and talk about anything affecting them in a space that strives to be safe and judgment free. There are all sorts of activities like watching movies, poetry events, storytelling, and just hanging out with others. For more details, visit thedccenter.org/poc or facebook.com/centerpoc.

Project DC Events will host “DC Pride Crawl” at 2 p.m. at Dupont Circle’s best bars. Guests are encouraged to put on their brightest and most colorful outfit, grab friends, and enjoy a day of drinks and celebration. Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased on Eventbrite

Sunday, June 4

AfroCode DC will be at 4 p.m. at Decades DC. This event will be an experience of non-stop music, dancing, and good vibes and a crossover of genres and a fusion of cultures. Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased on Eventbrite.

“Largest LGBTQIA+ Singles Flamingle” will be at 7 p.m. at THRoW Social DC. Guests can enjoy signature cocktail and wine specials, food, games, and live music while mingling with single people in the local LGBTQ community. This event is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Monday, June 5

Center Aging Monday Coffee and Conversation will be at 10 a.m. on Zoom. LGBT Older Adults — and friends — are invited to enjoy friendly conversations and to discuss any issues you might be dealing with. For more information, visit the Center Aging’s Facebook or Twitter.

Capital Pride Interfaith Service Planning Meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Zoom. The Capital Pride Interfaith Service is an “integrated service” respectfully demonstrating the breadth, depth, and sincerity of our faith, exposing the lie that anti-gay fundamentalists have a monopoly on faith and religion. For more details, [email protected]

Tuesday, June 6

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Pride Reception” at 5 p.m. at Turkish Coffee Lady. This event is to foster cross-cultural connectedness and make friends in the LGBTQ+ and allied community. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Pride on the Patio Events will host “LGBTQ+ Social Mixer” at 5:30 p.m. at Showroom. Dress is casual, fancy, or comfortable and guests are encouraged to bring the most authentic you to chat, laugh, and get a little crazy. This event is free and more details are available on Eventbrite

Wednesday, June 7

Job Club will be at 6 p.m. on Zoom. This is a weekly job support program to help job entrants and seekers, including the long-term unemployed, improve self-confidence, motivation, resilience and productivity for effective job searches and networking — allowing participants to move away from being merely “applicants” toward being “candidates.” For more information, email [email protected] or visit thedccenter.org/careers.

Center Aging Women’s Social & Discussion Group will be at 6:00p.m. on Zoom. This group is a place where older LGBTQ+ women can meet and socialize with one another. To register, visit the DC Center’s website

Thursday, June 8

KINETIC Presents will host “KINETIC Pride 2023 DC Weekend Pass” at 10 p.m. at four D.C. venues. This partnership with Capital Pride Alliance will feature a performance by global pop star Betty Who at Echostage, stunning visuals, and top talent. Tickets start at $149 and can be purchased on Eventbrite

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