Nathan Flower, John Kuntz,  and Bill Mootos in Jump/Rope
(© Betsey Katz)
Nathan Flower, John Kuntz, and Bill Mootos in Jump/Rope
(© Betsey Katz)
"It's not love if it doesn't hurt," says a character in John Kuntz's comedic thriller Jump/Rope, which explores the darker aspects of love and gay relationships with plenty of wit, dark humor, and creepiness.

Martin (Nathan Flower) and Alex (Bill Mootos) are celebrating their sixth anniversary, but neither of them seems particularly happy. Martin won't even say "I love you," while Alex is carrying on a clandestine affair. Their volatile relationship is exploited by Kurt (played by Kuntz), who has his own agenda.

Early in the play, Martin and Alex argue about negative gay representation in films, where the men portrayed are either too campy, suicidal, shallow, or sex-obsessed. "Couldn't the gay characters just be normal and ordinary?" asks Martin. The exchange serves as an ironic meta-commentary on the play itself, as Jump/Rope doesn't exactly show gay men in a flattering light, either. Indeed, it soon becomes clear that at least one of the characters is responsible for a string of unsolved homicides. The play maintains the mystery surrounding the killer until nearly the end, but all three are prime suspects throughout.

In addition to their interactions amongst each other, each one breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience. Kurt does this the most frequently, and Kuntz is both hilarious and charming as he delivers these monologues.

Mootos is nearly his equal in the acting department, and definitely the more sinister-seeming of the two. His handsome features belie a cold, calculated motivation that makes it clear why Machiavelli's The Prince is one of Alex's favorite books. Flower isn't quite at their level -- and a long diatribe in which Martin explains why he no longer goes to the gym is particularly difficult to sit through.

Aside from such momentary missteps as this, director Douglas Mercer keeps the 90-minute production moving at a brisk pace. Arnulfo Maldonado's white-toned set is both stylish and effective, while Michael Bogden's excellent sound design adds to the creepy atmosphere, particularly in the opening sequence.

The play contains a number of theatrical references, from a campy homage to Edward Albee's The Zoo Story to a sly allusion to Patrick Hamilton's Rope in the title of Kuntz's own work. While some might consider Jump/Rope's denouement a tad melodramatic, an epilogue restores the proper tone and ends the play on a satisfying note.