What’s a director to do when a play needs some work and the playwright is dead? This situation could easily serve as the premise for a slapstick comedy, but for local producer and director Ronnie Larsen, it became a real-life conundrum as he sought to mount his latest production, “The Gay Naked Play” by David Bell.
Even though the play received solid reviews during Off Broadway and London runs, Larsen felt the story should be localized after conducting a staged reading earlier this summer.
“It was missing something and I felt that with a few rewrites, we could make it even funnier,” explained Larsen, the writer of the Off Broadway hit “Making Porn” and more than 25 other LGBT-themed theatrical works.
Unfortunately, Larsen couldn’t turn to the playwright for help because Bell, a respected forty-something who called New York City home, passed away more than a year ago. Larsen decided that he would make the changes himself.
It’s not unusual for directors to change or update references in someone else’s works. Take William Shakespeare’s plays, for instance: He’s been dead for four centuries and, while few scholars would ever argue his masterpieces are flawed in any way, it’s not uncommon to see the settings changed or creative casting involved. “As You Like It” and “Much Ado About Nothing” have both been performed in the Roaring Twenties. One production of “Othello” featured the Moorish captain portrayed by a white actor marooned among a society of black actors. And British actress Glenda Jackson has tackled the male role of the tortured King Lear.
Unlike Shakespeare’s works, which are in the public domain and fully up for grabs, Bell’s original play was protected by modern copyright laws. Larsen sought out the writer’s surviving sister in Texas and she gave her blessing to the proposed changes, licensing him the rights for three years to mount future productions.
Larsen immediately set to work and wound up contributing 40 pages of his own to the story about a struggling thespian troupe that reluctantly hires a wily producer to boost their box office by casting a porn star as the lead in their next show.
First, Larsen changed the name from “The Play About the Naked Guy” to “The Gay Naked Play.” Also, in his version, the Integrity Players present their artistic masterpieces in Pompano Beach. After a rowdy night at the Wilton Manors stripper bar Johnson’s, the company’s stage manager introduces the team to the producer whose biggest hit is “Naked Boys Running Around Naked,” a hat tip to the long-running show “Naked Boys Singing.” There are references to the Carbonell Awards, the local version of the Tonys, and lots of name-dropping, too, including searing reviews from Sun-Sentinel writer Rod Stafford Hagwood and Norm Kent of South Florida Gay News. In the play, Wilton Manors audiences are decidedly low-brow, in search of a cheap thrill, and even the frequent passenger trains that run behind the Foundry studio get a plug.
“I had so much fun working all those references into the show, but the best part is hearing the laughs,” he said. “We get to poke fun at Pembroke Pines, Boca Raton and, yes, even Wilton Manors. This could just be another show about putting on a play, but the jokes really hit home for the audience.”
Larsen, who has himself been dubbed “the Shakespeare of sleazy gay plays” by fans, also couldn’t resist the opportunity to insert some suggestive, backlit simulated sex scenes into the action. The lead character, he argues, is a porn star after all and audiences have come to expect a little naughty humor.
In any case, Larsen predicts a hit, something the Integrity Players of Pompano Beach might only imagine.
David Bell’s “The Gay Naked Play” runs through Sept. 2 at the Foundry at the Abyss Theatre, 2308 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $35 - 50 at RonnieLarsen.com.