World Premiere at Empire Stage: Psychological Thrillers Can Be Sexy, Too

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Josh Berresford and Matthew Pappdia star in the world premiere production of “Happy Ending” at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale. Credit: Christian Carroll.

To say playwright Ronnie Larsen is obsessed with sex might be an understatement. His first hit, “Making Porn,” about a gay-for-pay adult movie star, ran Off Broadway and has since been performed on four continents.

He followed “Making Porn” with a film documentary about the industry, “Shooting Porn,” that was subsequently adapted for the stage, along with more than a dozen plays, including “All Male Peep Show,” “Cocksucker: A Love Story” and “My Boyfriend the Stripper.”

This weekend, the native Californian who recently relocated to South Florida, takes a drastic departure—of sorts. His new play, “Happy Ending,” will receive its world premiere at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale and is already booked for a second production later this year in London.

“It’s my play,” Larsen said, matter-of-factly. “Of course, it’s going to be sexy.”

But, he’s also quick to describe the work as a psychological thriller. Yes, it’s a two-man show about an encounter during a routine massage session, but the plot quickly thickens even as the masseuse, Andrew (Matthew Pappadia), applies slick oil to his client, Mr. Miller (Josh Berresford).

And yes, the title is intended to imply the “extra attention” some massage therapists offer their male clients at the end of the session.

“I can’t tell you much more,” he warned, “without giving away the secrets, but I will tell you it’s based on a real-life experience.”

Over the course of the story, the men eventually open up to each other sharing their most intimate desires and darkest fantasies. Both desire “happy endings” beyond the physical pleasures of a chance encounter.

Actor Berresford describes the play as “more of a dark comedy, a ping pong match—back and forth until the big reveal.”

Berresford would know about dramatic tension. He starred in two seasons of the here!  network’s gay soap, “Dante’s Cove,” at least until his character was killed in the second season. 

The ripped 38-year-old also promised Larsen’s loyal fans they would not be disappointed, “I think there’s going to be some boners in the audience...blood flow, let’s put it that way.

Berresford was a natural choice for the role of the “straight” Mr. Miller. Larsen has always had a fascination and attraction to straight men and that has inspired many of his plays. Berresford grew up in a small, rural borough north of Pittsburgh and, when pressed, readily described his acting persona as redneck (“although, that’s primarily a Southern thing”), maybe even white trash. He admitted living in a trailer as a child without running water or electricity.

He’s up against another New York actor, Matthew Pappadia, who is a personal trainer and certified occupational therapist. Pappadia was a perfect fit for the masseuse Andrew, Larsen said, because he’s serious about his career and a little wary of Mr. Miller’s intentions.

“I’m very excited,” said Larsen from New York City, where he was rehearsing with the actors. “It’s definitely a departure, but in a very good way.”

Ronnie Larsen’s world premiere play, “Happy Ending,” will be presented May 4 – 28 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $35 – 50 at RonnieLarsen.com.


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