At the center of Delaney Britt Brewer's An Octopus Love Story is a couple that go together like saltwater and taffy. An uneasy mixture of gay rights agitprop and romantic comedy of the Rock Hudson mold, this offering from Kids With Guns focuses on a love affair between a gay man and a lesbian. At the helm are Kelli Holsopple and Josh Tyson, beguiling as the oddest of odd couples, who manage to sail over the roughest breakers. Jane (Holsopple) is a lesbian receptionist who's not out to her co-workers but is in a serious relationship with another woman. Tyson's Danny, a handsome waiter, is single and gay, as is his friend Alex, a waspish PR man (Michael Cyril Creighton). Alex proposes a protest against the ban on gay marriage in New York that will take the form of a marital union between Danny and Jane, two openly gay people who have no interest in sex (with each other), procreation, or wedded bliss. Their sham alliance will demonstrate the idiocy of the ban, argues Alex—and will incidentally give him a career boost. The skeptical Danny agrees to meet Jane, whose lover, Tosh (Jenny Greer), is Alex's co-worker and helped cook up the scheme.
Once Danny and Jane meet, however, things don't go as planned. In a scene involving a forgotten umbrella and Strange Bedfellows, an old Rock Hudson movie whose title dovetails neatly with Brewer's story, the pair find a lot of common emotional ground. It's a tribute to Brewer's writing and director Mike Klar as much as to Holsopple and Tyson that their scenes together have such a winning chemistry. Especially this crucial sequence, both hilarious and touching, in which they lip-sync Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida's dialogue, then swap their roles.
Brewer's title, incidentally, is drawn from a story Danny tells about Sam, a friend of his who loves ocean life. Sam's pet octopus fell in love with him and climbed out of the tank to snuggle by Sam in his bed until Sam picked up the creature and returned her to the tank. The story sounds like what Mark Twain would call "a stretcher," but the oceanic motif is given a nifty visual parallel by Brian Sidney Bembridge's aquarium-like set, with its occasional dividing curtain of transparent vinyl, and furniture in blue and aquamarine.
Stretching is definitely required, however, to believe in the politically motivated characters. Alex and Tosh are so pretentious, arrogant, and bullying that one wonders how Danny and Jane could tolerate them as friends, let alone be maneuvered into marriage. ("When I see an amazing work of art I weep, triggered by the impact of weighty thought and empathy," rhapsodizes Tosh.) And a bogus reporter (Andrew Dawson) who interviews Danny and Jane is so pushy and unprofessional that the scene doesn't ring true for any of the characters.
Tellingly, the person with the most common sense is Jane's blond bombshell stepmother, Kathy, a former Miss Houston (played with convincing vivacity and warmth by Krista Sutton), who declares, "You know your daddy—he's quite a percolator" when she means "procrastinator."
Gays and lesbians may experience strong emotional bonds, but whether their sexual orientation is malleable is a tricky point. Brewer isn't clear whether Danny and Jane are discovering a corner of bisexuality in themselves or not, and she glosses over the crucial moment. After Danny unexpectedly kisses her, Jane warns him, "I need to know if you crave me. Physically." Danny responds, "That's not how I work." After a brief exchange, she warns him, "I need it all, Danny. Romance. Sex. The whole nine yards." His answer, "It's covered," indicates a major reversal of his declared sexual orientation from a few minutes before, but it is just unconvincing.
Despite the cardboard nature of Brewer's villains, she often writes with deft turns of phrase ("this situation is a real Fabergé egg—cruel in its delicacy") and sharp wit. Her likable characters raise the hope that she will try her hand at an unpolitical romantic comedy.