Does one stand out or strive to fit in? That question lies at the heart of Tiger Orange, the award-winning film festival favorite released this month on DVD and VOD.
It’s a first-rate study of the often-strained relationship between two gay brothers in a small Central California town.
Mark Strano co-stars as one of the brothers, and he also co-wrote the screenplay with his real-life partner, the film’s director Wade Gasque. The other brother is played by Frankie Valenti, who was better known by his adult film pseudonym, Johnny Hazzard, before he crossed over into more mainstream projects like HereTV’s popular vampire series The Lair.
Valenti plays the prodigal brother, Todd, who was raised with his older brother Chet (Strano) by a narrow-minded, working-class single father. This out-and-proud “bad boy” ran off to Los Angeles, bearing the brunt of their father’s rage from a safe distance. Chet, on the other hand, put his own life on hold to stay home (and mostly closeted), run the family hardware store, and care for their ailing father until his recent death.
Having burned all his bridges in Los Angeles, Todd — now broke and homeless — returns to the brother he left behind. His surprise visit overwhelms Chet’s safe and tightly guarded life, and Todd stirs up trouble with his in-your-face bravado and various sex-capades, discreet and otherwise.
Without Dad around to blame anymore, Chet struggles to keep everything in check, even at the cost of slowly unraveling himself, before the brothers finally examine the common bonds they never truly acknowledged.
“The title of the film was going to be Where We Belong” Strano says. “We always toyed with changing it to Tiger Orange, which literally signifies a color swatch, like ‘canary yellow’ for example. It’s a bit more abstract, but references a scene in the movie where my character, who works in a hardware store, is approached by a customer looking for a color of paint for his grandkid’s tree fort. But it’s also got a deeper meaning. In Asian cultures, the tiger represents raw emotions, and orange, in the whole ‘chakra’ realm, is all about emotions and dealing with death. I think all three meanings are really great key points to the story itself.”
Tiger Orange benefits enormously from the contrasting talents and charisma of its two stars.
Valenti says that growing up acting and performing wasn’t really at the top of his to-do list. It was when he took up dancing in local gay clubs, he says, that he quickly became smitten with being on stage.
“I used to dance up on these boxes, and I realized that I was a good dancer,” he recalls. “That was my first taste of being on stage.”
Valenti, a Cleveland native, says he came out during what he calls the “height of the Circuit Age.”
“Back then, I got a big taste of the gay community really fast, so when I moved to L.A., it wasn’t like I was shocked and awed by the level of what I encountered. … It was more like I had heard it was, and I thought it was great!”
Conversely, Strano (whom many will remember from last year’s gay thriller Out to Kill) says he’s been interested in performing ever since he was a kid, and he even wrote a musical while he was in high school.
“It was a musical that I was in and I directed,” he says. “I wrote it for my friends during our senior year — that was my first foray into doing my own projects.
“It was about a big family who all come together because they’re not sure who is going to inherit this big mansion. So there [are> a lot of family themes that I like to deal with in my writing.”
Since then, Strano says, he’s written the music for several projects — most notably a short film titled Fixing Frank that starred “out” actor Dan Butler from Frasier. “So yep — I do a little bit of music, too!” he says with a chuckle.