“No Homo” Reviewed by Dan Berkowitz

There’s a lot to like in Brandon Baruch’s No Homo. Attractive young actors with lots of energy, well-paced direction by Jessica Hanna, nicely-done technical elements (set by David Offner, art direction by Shing Yin Khor, costumes by Laura Wong, sound by Corwin Evans, and lighting by author Baruch), and a plot with the potential for much hilarity. Indeed, my companion thoroughly enjoyed the evening, viewing it as a long sitcom pilot.
 

Michael James Lutheran (L) and Jonny Rodgers

Michael James Lutheran (L) and Jonny Rodgers. Photo: Corwin Evans


 
The opening scene introduces us to heterosexual West Hollywood resident Luke (Michael James Lutheran), out for a night on the town with his girlfriend Babette (Elizabeth Ellson), and his roommate and best straight bud Ash (Jonny Rodgers). They’re at a gay bar, perhaps because Ash’s brother Serge (AJ Jones) and his boyfriend Kris (Henry McMillan) are celebrating having just moved in together. Rounding out the group is Luke’s sister Chrissy (Lauren Flans), visiting from out of town.
 
Henry McMillan (L) and AJ Jones. Photo: Corwin Evans

Henry McMillan (L) and AJ Jones. Photo: Corwin Evans


 
Actually, they’re at the Abbey, the straightest gay bar in town, so the fact that four of the characters are hetero isn’t that unusual.

But wait. Before the Jello shots are done, Chrissy – drunk and sloppy – will loudly declare herself to be a lesbian. As for the straight boys, at one point, Luke heads to the gents’ room, and Ash tags along. As they banter about whether Chrissy’s sleeping on the couch will put a crimp in Luke’s spending the night with Babette, and whether Ash will succeed in luring the female bar hostess back for some good hetero lovin’, they can’t seem to take their hands off one another. And when they whip out their… well, you know whats… there’s more than a little checkin’ each other out.

Uh oh. Maybe these guys aren’t so straight after all…? Looks like there’s more than a little homo in No Homo.
 

Elizabeth Ellson (L) and Lauren Flans. Photo: Corwin Evans

Elizabeth Ellson (L) and Lauren Flans. Photo: Corwin Evans


 
The production has such an ingratiating feel that one really wants to like it. And let’s face it, how could I not enjoy a play where the best scene is set in one of my favorite restaurants, and the entire evening makes in-joke references to the area I’ve called my neighborhood for the past 20 years?

However, there are three problems.

First, while the title and premise hint at broad comedy – two “straight” guys who are actually gay and in love with one another without realizing it! – and the show begins with a jokey cell phone announcement, followed by a rollicking opening scene setting up the cluelessness of the central duo, the scene in the bar is no sooner done than we move from frothy farce to serious, if not mushy, melodrama. Yes, while we’ve been promised a sitcom, what we actually get is an angst-y drama. Some of the time. Some of the time it’s funny. But then it isn’t. Then it is again. The tone of the play is uncertain, and that’s not a good thing.

Second, the dialogue. Some years ago, a well-known playwright who also writes for TV said he preferred writing for the theatre, because in a play, you can write subtext, whereas there is no subtext in television. Alas, there is also no subtext in No Homo – everyone pretty much says exactly what he or she means at every given moment. While this can be refreshing, when it’s done all the time, it’s numbing – in real life, people rarely say what they mean, and when everything is “on point” all the time in a play, it becomes tedious.
 

Jonny Rodgers (L) and Michael James Lutheran. Photo: Corwin Evans

Jonny Rodgers (L) and Michael James Lutheran. Photo: Corwin Evans


 

Third, and perhaps most serious, the author has given us in Luke a seriously unattractive central character: he’s clueless – about everything – he whines incessantly, he’s selfish and self-centered, and turns out to be more than a bit of a pig. When he and Ash finally succumb to their long-suppressed lust, he insists on being on top, and we find out later that he not only screwed Ash bareback, but then went immediately to Babette’s – without even taking a shower – and “was intimate” with her. The night I saw the show, the revulsion in the audience at this revelation was palpable. The inevitable question – why would anyone want to spend time with this guy? – robs the play of much of the good will it generates. The ending would have been a downer if Luke were more sympathetic, but by the time we get to it, we really don’t care about him, and we’re ready to give him the heave-ho.

While comedy and drama not only can, but (in my opinion) should mix in any play, No Homo promises one thing but delivers something far different. Frankly, I would have preferred sticking with the froth.

No Homo
Written by Brandon Baruch
Directed by Jessica Hanna

Through August 23

Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Tickets: 800-838-3006 or http://nohomo.brownpapertickets.com/


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