Not many plays jump from the Hollywood Fringe to New York, but last year’s popular hit No Homo did. It was the NY Fringe, not Broadway, but still …
Now it’s back in town, in a full-scale production at Atwater Village Theatre complex. It sports big flashy (and probably costly) sets, far more complex lights and sound than at the Fringe, and snappy direction from Jessica Hanna.
But the play’s the thing. A timely topic, a sharp-edged story, and witty dialog powered its Fringe success, and they’re all still there (with a little polishing by playwright Brandon Baruch). In its fancy new clothes, it’s wowing audiences.
No Homo follows two young men struggling through identity crises — sexual identity, to be exact. Though Luke and Ash are loving friends, living together since college, they identify as straight. Not everyone agrees, starting with Luke’s sister and including the new partner of Ash’s gay brother.
We open at the new couple’s housewarming party, in a gay bar;
it collapses in shouting and name-calling, all the relationships fray, and by the final blackout some things have started to clarify. But this isn’t a romcom (though it plays with our expectations) — things don’t neatly resolve.
The revised cast is as impressive as the new staging. Jonny Rodgers creates a beautifully nuanced Ash, and Michael Lutheran’s Luke is as frustrating as he is frustrated, yet he holds our sympathy. AJ Jones (from the original cast) has sharpened his focus and energy as Serge, Ash’s brother; and Henry McMillan (also a holdover) has deepened the flamboyant Kris away from caricature and into our empathy. Elizabeth Ellson, as Luke’s girlfriend Beth, has likewise tightened and grounded her performance since 2014. And Lauren Flans (who helped power Best of Albuquerque at this year’s Fringe) makes Luke’s sister Chrissy the irrepressible driver of the tale.
All of this implies the sure hand of an actors’ director, a title Hanna has clearly earned. At the same time, the design team takes the play to a new level. The garish pre-show (a gobo bouncing on a scrim and mylar panels, blaring dance tracks) yields to the bar (the same, plus a clever high-platform men’s room). Then the set opens to reveal two bachelor apartments, one tasteful and clean, the other piled with moving boxes. Kudos to David Offner (scene), Baruch (lights) and Corwin Evans (sound). Costumer Laura Wong also quietly gives us a wide range of clearly delineated modern characters.
This team has made No Homo into what it gave promise of being a year ago. It’s the modern equivalent of a bright Noel Coward comedy, with much to say about the ethics of relationships, and it’s ready for the big time.
[A caveat: As in Coward’s plays, everyone in No Homo drinks, almost all the time. So all important conversations and decisions are handled while drunk or hung over. (No wonder they mostly fail.)
Another: While the topic of sexual identity is a hot one, and it’s deftly handled, No Homo still lives entirely in a world of gender as either/or, all one thing or all the other. In recent years, our culture (or at least its cutting edge) has moved toward seeing gender as fluid. Soon, Baruch’s fine play may look as dated as Coward’s. }
No Homo: A Bromantic Tragedy, by Brandon Baruch, directed by Jessica Hanna.
Presented by Be Flat Productions and Praxis Limited, at the Atwater Village Theatre Center, 3269 Casitas Ave.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sunday at 7:00 pm, through Aug 23rd.