The 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival hit NO HOMO now gets the fully-staged production I put on my wish list when writing about Brandon Baruch’s hilarious bromcom last year. It also gets a new ending likely to disappoint if not downright infuriate those like this reviewer who fell unreservedly in love with NO HOMO 1.0.
Baruch gives NO HOMO an absolutely terrific setup.
20somethings Ash (Jonny Rodgers) and Luke (Michael James Lutheran) have been inseparable besties since college, so much so that everyone they know, including Ash’s gay brother Serge (AJ Jones) and Luke’s just-out sister Chrissy (Lauren Flans), assumes them to be a couple. In fact, even Ash and Luke themselves may harbor suspicions that the other is gay.
Still, all speculation aside, our bff heroes do appear to be decidedly “NO HOMO,” that is until undeniable love and unexpected circumstances prompt them to wonder, “What if?”
Figuring prominently along the way are Serge’s boyfriend Kris (Henry McMillan), who takes their open relationship the more openly of the two, and Luke’s ditzy girlfriend Babette (Elizabeth Ellson), who’s beginning to wonder when and if she and taking-it-slow Luke will ever go all the way.
Ash and Luke and their entourage may have their human shortcomings (as don’t we all), but they are utterly engaging throughout, inspiring plenty of laughter, gasps, sighs, cheers, and tears along the way.
Baruch’s writing is as funny, clever, and snappy as ever and again made even funnier, cleverer, and snappier by Jessica Hanna’s inventive direction.
Still, as Hollywood knows all too well, a comedy’s final scene can make or break it with audiences.
Pretty In Pink and My Best Friend’s Wedding are but two examples of movies that actually brought back their cast and crew for expensive reshoots long after they were in the can because their original endings left preview audiences feeling cheated despite the filmmakers’ best intentions.
Perhaps if Baruch did not have us so deeply invested in his characters’ lives and in their futures, NO HOMO’s abrupt, tonally jarring new ending would matter less. But matter it does.
Fortunately, performances are every bit as brilliant at the Atwater Village Theatre as they were at Hollywood Fringe under Jessica Hanna’s once again pizzazzy direction. Cast newcomers Flans and Lutheran match returnees Ellson, Jones, McMillan, and Rodgers in comedic timing and flair, ginger-snappy McMillan re-delivering one of last year’s most memorable star turns, taking a smartly-written gay archetype and making him so fresh and sexy and bitchy and all around fabulous, he deserves his very own sitcom “Kris.”
NO HOMO 2.0 reunites its team of Fringe Festival designers, who (given considerably more bucks to achieve their vision and no need to move in-and-out after each performance) make this “sit-down” production a design winner, from scenic designer David Offner’s imaginative, detailed set to Laura Wong’s character-defining costumes to Corwin Evans’ dance-club-ready sound design to Baruch’s terrific lighting, the latter not at all surprising coming from one of L.A.’s most brilliant young designers.
NO HOMO is produced by Max Oken and Baruch in association with Bootleg Theater. Cristina Carrillo-Dono is stage manager. Jon Stoner is technical director.
I ended my Fringe review with the following wish: “Give NO HOMO the fully-staged production it deserves and some lucky L.A. 99-seat theater will have a crowd-pleasing hit on its hands.”
Baruch’s play still works wonders 95% of the way. If only its writer hadn’t tried to fix what didn’t need fixing.
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater Village.
August 1, 2015
Photos: Corwin Evans