By Hans Pedersen, February 2016 Issue. Back to Echo’s Desperado 2016 coverage.

A tragedy in an Ohio supermarket parking lot unfolds in the opening moments of Akron, binding two characters who are then reunited by fate.

Benny (Matthew Frias) is an engineering student living at home his freshman year, and Christopher (Edmund Donovan) is a former Akron resident who has returned to start college. (Read Hans Pedersen's interview with Matthew Frias here.)

Edmund Donovan as Christopher (left) and Matthew Frias as Benny in Akron.

Directors Brian O’Donnell and Sasha King helm this story about long-buried grief that upends the love affair between the two college freshmen.

Benny and Christopher find they have an instant connection when they meet playing football. After a date and a passionate kiss under a laser star shower while dancing, they quickly fall in love.

The handsome guys develop a loving relationship – even making plans for a getaway to the sunny beaches of Florida. But when Christopher picks up Benny for their excursion and meets his parents, a haunting incident from the past comes rushing back to him.

From a family photo, Christopher recognizes a member of Benny’s family who died in that tragic incident – and it’s a death for which Christopher’s own mother is responsible.

But he seems intent on avoiding the truth, and the two lovers make their journey down to Florida, only to meet up with Christopher’s mother, Carol (Amy da Luz). The painful events of the past eventually bubble to the surface in a series of heavy moments.

The death of Benny’s family member in an Ohio parking lot clearly shattered everyone’s lives, including Christopher’s mom, who is ultimately the person to blame.

Benny and Christopher return to Akron, caught in the awkward and uncomfortable shadow of a years-old tragedy that threatens to undo their relationship.

Ultimately Benny’s mother Lenora (Andrea Burns) insists that he end his relationship with the young man, creating fireworks. As the anguish from that incident is dredged back up again for both families, the loving bond between the two young men turns out to be stronger than expected, one that cannot be broken so easily.

Viewers are bound to appreciate how supportive the character Lenora is of her son’s gay lifestyle. She’s portrayed as laid-back, cool and direct – that is, until Christopher’s connection to the tragedy is uncovered. Then she’s virulently opposed to his presence in her home.

Akron. Photo courtesy of Photo credit Beto Bruzadin.

The story could just as easily have involved a straight couple rather than a gay one, and yet the parents’ 180-degree spin of a reaction and their resistance to the guys’ relationship resonates strongly. The challenging position the two men face is gut-wrenching.

Frias and Donovan turn in strong performances in their challenging roles as Benny and Christopher; both are expressive, conveying a great deal with only their faces, while still bringing fun and sexy moments to the film. The stage actress playing Lenora (Andrea Burns) hits a clinker of a note once in while in her performance, but still has plenty of strong moments.

This character-driven drama is moving, well-paced, and unfolds in a believable manner. While it’s rough around the edges at times, it’s a winning concept, sharing the story of how a young man could wind up paying for the sins of his mother.

Akron will screen at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 as part of the Desperado LGBT Film Festival. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Brian O’Donnell and actor Matthew Frias.

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