Review by RYAN FLORESJune 19, 2019 certified reviewer
What I liked
The specific and subtle choices. From the interview playing when the house opens to the pre-show announcements being done in what we find out to be, in character. The montage of Instagram messages being thrown at us before the play, and then the bye’s at the end. Madison was placed on the right or left side of the stage, depending on which political party she was representing at the time. Madison and Lorenzo ever so slightly swayed in unison when driving in the car. And perhaps the most ironic subtle choice of all, the curtain call song. “Kids of the Future” by The Jonas Brothers. Unfortunately this play does depict the kids of the future.
A quick bonus is the play had 2 real life immigrants (Omilon and Tombacco), as well as a real Mexican-American (Rocabado.) The casting was on point.
What I didn't like
No Joke was one of the rare shows that I was so immersed in, I didn’t realize that time had continued on. I was sad it ended. I wanted to see Madison get pummeled. So what did I not like? Nothing other than Madison not getting what she deserved…but isn’t that the irony of it all?
My overall impression
No Joke is a hidden Fringe gem. Those obscure shows in small theatres that don’t attract the masses, but need to. Every Fringe goer should make it a point to get into this audience. No Joke is a chilling play that makes you ashamed for recognizing even a sliver of Madison in yourself. The stupidity and ignorance of Madison, played by Gina Omilon (who also wrote the show), gets so unbearable you start to hate her. Omilon skillfully delivers an infuriating performance topped with all of the annoying entitled millennial/Gen Z attributes. Sofia, played by Alexa Rocabado, suffers the hard job of having to keep her cool while under watch in a detention camp, yet having to deal with the ignorant American in front of her. Rocabado remains steady and tolerant amidst Madison’s constant cringe worthy comments. Lorenzo, played by Nicola Tombacco, is the fiery soldier we need as an audience, who combats Madison’s lack of intelligence. Tombacco delivers a specific and grounded performance, mastering the distractions of being an uber driver, while dealing with a passenger who just doesn’t get it.
No Joke is not only carried out by 3 extremely strong actors, but because of the strong writing. Omilon carefully crafted a callous and hyperbolic play that unfortunately hits each one of us at home in our current political state. At times the audience was too scared to laugh, as we would be self-conscious that we found that joke funny. Yet, as the audience was leaving the theatre, lines were already being quoted and laughed at, once the tension broke enough to realize we were not alone. The level of quotes in No Joke could fairly be compared to Mean Girls – a never ending amount. This only eased the post-show environment, where no doubt, people kept talking about this play and the new perspectives over drinks, food, etc.
Omilon also skillfully does not just write for the left audience, but for the right as well. The voice of a legal immigrant, watching illegal immigrants get away with it, is a voice that is often not heard. This was a nice and enlightening touch. However, her blast on the fake use of social media condolences is what drives the dagger home. No Joke reveals that we are all hypocrites, willing to post whatever wishy washy statement we need, in order to gain more likes and followers. It also highlights the ignorance of our society in taking news on Instagram as actual news, rather than doing our homework and learning from real life examples.
My love of theatre does not allow me to end this review without recognition for the director, Nathanael Johnson, who no doubt carefully crafted each moment into life. The specific and subtle choices of each actor has outstanding directing written all over them. Johnson took a difficult topic and churned it into a play that made time stand still. A hard thing to do now in the days of short attention spans.
No Joke will be a highlight of my 2019 Hollywood Fringe experience. I dare to say, it will be my favorite. Do not miss this show.