Porn Yesterday

Naked ambitions on display at Teatro Dallas; Second Thought adopts troubled Orphans

They're packing 'em in over at Teatro Dallas for the touring production of Making Porn, a lurid little comedy about the gay porn industry that stars one of its bigger, um, talents. That would be Matthew Rush, a puffy-lipped he-man with arms that hang like chuck roasts from his massive shoulders and a body part lower down that has earned him the leads in the boy-boy epics Drenched, Ready for More and Deep South 2.

Making Porn comes from the oeuvre of one Ronnie Larsen, a 35-year-old Los Angeles playwright whose specialty is smut lite. Among his most successful works for the stage are A Few Gay Men, Cocksuckers: A Love Story and his latest, Charlie the Sex Addict Meets 4 Hookers. From Toronto to Fort Lauderdale, Larsen's productions have played to sold-out houses of gay men willing to pony up $30 a ticket to get a peek at Rush and other X-rated film stars in the flesh as they emote in a medium that can't be fast-forwarded.

There is no sex in Making Porn. Just some man-on-man smoochery and a little simulated bump and tickle. They do get naked. Early and often. The oftener the better as the bare bodkins, strangely tanned and cartoon-muscled as they are, distract the audience from the amateurish performances. Maybe the acting is so wooden because they're used to letting their wood do all the acting.

Matthew Rush isn't so impressive  

after all.
Dean Keefer
Matthew Rush isn't so impressive after all.
Matthew Rush isn't so impressive  

after all.
Dean Keefer
Matthew Rush isn't so impressive after all.
Matthew Rush isn't so impressive  

after all.
Dean Keefer
Matthew Rush isn't so impressive after all.
Matthew Rush isn't so impressive  

after all.
Dean Keefer
Matthew Rush isn't so impressive after all.
Matthew Rush isn't so impressive  

after all.
Dean Keefer
Matthew Rush isn't so impressive after all.
Matthew Rush isn't so impressive  

after all.
Dean Keefer
Matthew Rush isn't so impressive after all.

The plot of Making Porn finds a straight aspiring actor named Jack Hawk (Rush) bombing at auditions for Hamlet and Macbeth. In that time-honored career leap from the classics right to gay porn, Jack's next move is to accept a role in Cops, an all-male sex film directed by an unscrupulous squirt named Arthur (Preston Lee Britton, squealing like the Church Lady). As the newbie, Jack has to be taken by the hand and taught gay-for-pay by veteran porn stud Ray (Rob Romoni) and eager ingenue Ricky (Lukas Roberts).

Jack hides his new professional credits from wife Linda (Kristen Shea), who thinks he's spending weekends making "educational videos." Later she discovers his secret life and, instead of leaving him, becomes his agent, deciding her hunky hub should demand mo' money for those 'mo movies. When Jack protests that being known as a porn star will ruin his legit acting career, Linda snarls, "You don't have an acting career--you have an audition career."

If Larsen penned more lines like that, Making Porn would be less painful. The lowdown is that nobody comes to this thing expecting Oscar Wilde (and he certainly wouldn't have missed a single performance). But what starts out as a provocative and promising satire on the ins and outs of the porn business of the 1980s slips too quickly into awkward commentary on AIDS and its effect on the sex trade. Act 1 is 90 minutes of acidic one-liners and scandalous asides ("I'll leave you two alone," says Ray, "I have to go lube up my hole"). Act 2 blows it in a scant 20 minutes of choppy arguments as Linda forces an AIDS-fearing Jack into a career as a male stripper. Talk about pole-axed.

The crowd at Teatro Dallas, of course, barely registers the weaker plot points of this manly opus, so busy are they ogling the nether regions of the beefcakes doffing their shorts onstage. A crummy script, some shaved-down, uninhibited actors and a few tossed-off references to Bea Arthur and All About Eve create a tasty theatrical cocktail for a particular tier of the population thirsting for some visual stim. It was standing room only at the performance reviewed. There haven't been this many gay middle-aged men with comb-overs in one place since The Carol Burnett Show was canceled.

The trick is not to expect too much from a spectacle like this. There's acting and then there's whatever they're doing in Making Porn. And between the two is a vas deferens.


For serious acting, check out Orphans, the latest production from the new Second Thought Theatre company, that little group of Baylor grads who've taken over the Frank's Place space atop the Dallas Theater Center. These kids aren't fooling around. With their first production, the darkly funny Anton in Show Business, and now with a taut and emotionally wrenching staging of Lyle Kessler's 1983 drama, they're earning a well-deserved rep for good work.

Orphans looks at what it means to be a family. Treat and Phillip are destitute brothers living in the run-down North Philadelphia home they grew up in. Treat (played with seductive menace by Mike Schraeder) provides bare essentials by petty thievery and sidewalk stick-ups. Younger Phillip (Erik Archilla) never leaves the house, convinced by Treat that he'll die if exposed to the outdoors. He spends long days watching TV, looking out the window and secretly reading great novels his brother thinks he's too simpleminded to absorb.

One night Treat drags home a drunken gangster named Harold (David Middleman, looking a lot like John Mahoney, who originated the role at Steppenwolf in Chicago). Harold has a briefcase packed with negotiable stock certificates. What begins as a kidnapping evolves into a strange little family unit, with Harold taking on the role of the boys' surrogate father. He gives Phillip "hugs of encouragement" and calls Treat his "Dead End Kid." He lives in their house, lets Treat use his credit cards to buy "Pierre Cardeen suits" and cooks them corned beef and cabbage. But this mythic, mysterious man won't stay with the boys for long. This offbeat fairy tale offers no happy ending.

Directed by Nick Orand, Orphans is a tough little play that hits right in the solar plexus. The staging in Frank's Place has a haphazard rhythm, not helped by the bits-and-pieces set that gives the production a cheap student workshop look. The actors, however, have a tight grasp on the bleak material, and they're not afraid to give over to the violence and to the deep emotions their parts call for. Schraeder is especially touching in the final scene as he watches his dream of a father and a secure life slip away. Orphansleaves the audience upset and sad, but also eager to see the next thing these gifted young actors come up with.

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