‘To Fall in Love’ at Nu Sass is a heart-smart revelation

One of the most intimate, touching, and truthful relationship dramas you’re likely to experience without being in it yourself.

If you google “do-it-yourself couples therapy” or “DIY marriage counseling,” you’ll get so many tips, exercises, and techniques — so many elaborate worksheets, steps, and self-guided activities — you could go bleary-eyed with bewilderment. Or exhaustion. Lucky for us that’s not what thirtysomething Merryn and Wyatt did when their marriage was on the ropes, as we learn in Jennifer Lane’s heart-smart two-hander now playing at Nu Sass, To Fall in Love. To rescue their relationship, Wyatt and Merryn just took a quiz.

Wyatt (Connor Padilla), a college teacher and aspiring poet, has moved out of the house that he shared with Merryn and now lives alone in a bland, barebones apartment. Merryn also lives alone, in the house that was theirs, and works as an office manager. Wyatt, wanting to get back together, stumbled upon a story in the New York Times promising that if two people both answer a specific sequence of 36 questions, they’d fall in love. So Wyatt invited Merryn (Rachel Manteuffel) to come over and give it a try. She does.

Connor Padilla as Wyatt and Rachel Manteuffel as Merryn in ‘To Fall in Love.’ Photo by Aubri O’Connor.

Merryn and Wyatt’s ensuing Q&A session makes for one of the most intimate, touching, and truthful relationship dramas you’re likely to experience without being in it yourself. So up close and personal is To Fall in Love that you are literally in the same room with them, fewer than 10 feet away, bearing witness as a once happily wed couple light-heartedly and dead-seriously reconsider who they are and ever were to each other.

Padilla’s Wyatt is a cuddly teddy bear, a self-confessed crier, whose feelings for Merryn have nearly no filter: she is still the emotional center of his universe. Manteuffel’s Merryn is more complicated and reserved — smart, lively, and caring but harboring a deep melancholy that has kept her at an emotional remove — which Manteuffel’s nuanced performance embodies luminously.

“Will they or won’t they get back together?” just scratches the surface of what will intrigue you about these two people; it’s what Lane reveals about why they separated that will grab you.

Unlike just about every breakup ever dramatized, the reason Wyatt and Merryn are apart is not that one of them did something rotten or betrayed the other or has an addiction or keeps a shameful secret or anything like that. Sometimes deep pain is no-fault. And this penetrating play discloses the psychological and emotional hurt that has come between Wyatt and Merryn with such revelatory honesty it could take your breath away.

But along the way, there’s plenty of play: laughter, passion, reminiscence. The relationship’s unfolding details are a steady and satisfying source of surprise. Director Ryan S. Taylor has found the pulse and perfect pitch of every tense and tender moment. And Intimacy Director Emily Sucher has choreographed an erotic narrative with extraordinary character clarity.

Connor Padilla as Wyatt and Rachel Manteuffel as Merryn in ‘To Fall in Love.’ Photo by Aubri O’Connor.

The realistic set designed by Simone Schneeberg is shared with Twigs & Bone, a completely different but equally outstanding play. The lighting designed by Laurel Lehman is basic as can be; the costumes by Jesse Shipley are plain and simple as well. The authenticity in the script and the naturalism in the actors’ performances come through and connect with such veracity that stagecraft any showier would seem out of place.

To Fall in Love is definitely a play to fall in love with. And the last four minutes are unlike anything you’ve seen on stage before.

Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, with no intermission.

To Fall in Love plays through June 18, 2022, in rep with the world premiere Twigs & Bone presented by Nu Sass Productions performing at Caos on F, 923 F Street NW, Washington, DC. Tickets ($30 general admission; $60 date night [2 tickets + 2 drinks + 2 snacks]; $10 industry, student, teacher, healthcare worker) can be purchased online. Absolutely no late seating. Pay What You Will is available for all performances, and a streaming option ($20) is available for selected performances.

COVID Safety: Seating is limited to 18 audience members per performance. All guests will be asked to comply with Theater Washington COVID guidelines. Proof of vaccination and mask are required.

TO FALL IN LOVE 

Written by Jennifer Lane
Directed by Ryan S. Taylor

Starring
Merryn Thomas: Rachel Manteuffel
Wyatt Grimes: Connor Padilla

Stage Manager: Krista Murray
Producer: Aubri O’Connor
Set: Simone Schneeberg
Lights: Laurel Lehman
Sound: Krista Murray and Ryan S. Taylor
Costumes: Jesse Shipley
Props: Simone Schneeberg
Production Manager: Charles Lasky
Intimacy Director: Emily Sucher
Marketing Designs: Mik Bear
Design Assist: Clarissa Westphal Noguiera
Social Media: Laolu Fayese
House Manager: Jeffrey Fleming

TO FALL IN LOVE PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE

Thursday, May 12 @ 7:30 pm
Saturday, May 14 @ 2:00 pm
Sunday, May 15 @ 7:30 pm
Monday, May 16 @ 7:30 pm
Tuesday, May 17 @ 7:30 pm
Thursday, May 19 @ 7:30 pm
Sunday, May 22 @ 7:30 pm (streaming option available)
Tuesday, May 24 @ 7:30 pm (streaming option available)
Thursday, May 26 @ 7:30 pm (streaming option available)
Sunday, June 5 @ 7:30 pm (streaming option available)
Wednesday, June 8 @ 7:30 pm (streaming option available)
Thursday, June 9 @ 7:30 pm (streaming option available)
Sunday, June 12 @ 7:30 pm (streaming option available)
Monday, June 13 @ 7:30 pm
Thursday, June 16 @ 7:30 pm
Friday, June 17 @ 7:30 pm
Saturday, June 18 @ 2:00 pm; 7:30 pm

SEE ALSO:
A chillingly terrific ‘Twigs & Bone’ premieres at Nu Sass (review by John Stoltenberg)
How Nu Sass fell in love with ‘To Fall in Love’ by Jennifer Lane  (feature)

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John Stoltenberg is executive editor of DC Theater Arts. He writes both reviews and his Magic Time! column, which he named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it, he explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees. Decades ago, in college, John began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile, his own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then John’s life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction essays, articles, and books and had a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg.

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