You don’t have to be Dr. Phil—or Dr. Ruth, as a matter of fact—to figure out that playwright Ronnie Larsen is slightly obsessed with sex.
His works include “Making Porn,” the story of a straight man who finds himself sucked into the world of gay porn, last year’s smash hit “All-Male Peep Show” and “The Naked Penis Talk Show,” a hilarious live comedy act in which audiences get to ask three anonymous naked guys anything about their male organs.
Now, Larsen has returned to Empire Stage with “Cocksucker: A Love Story,” which opened last weekend to sold out audiences and may, according to the producers, be among the biggest financial successes for the tiny theater space.
Like “Peep Show,” inspired by Larsen’s experiences in seedy Times Square in the early 1990s, “Cocksucker” is somewhat autobiographical.
Larsen, who also directs, stars as Isaac, a gay man with an obsession for oral sex. Early on, he realizes his attraction isn’t to other gay men, but to the straight men he encounters at adult movie theaters and truck stops. When he dons any frumpy frock and a wig, however, these “straight” men get caught up in the illusion and cast inhibitions aside as “Truck Stop Sally” pleasures them.
Along the way, Isaac encounters opportunistic Harry (Roberto Adolpho), a gay filmmaker who takes a lesson from Isaac’s playbook, videotaping straight Marines who think they are auditioning for heterosexual porn flicks. Unfortunately, Harry is either not as skilled as Isaac or simply unlucky, when the game turns ugly after one of the Marines is court martialed.
And then there is Joshua (performed authentically by Brandon Renfroe), a young Marine recruit from rural Mississippi, who feels an attraction to Sally and at first seems open to the idea of a relationship with Sally and Isaac. That’s the love story.
Lory Reyes and David R. Gordon round out the small cast, portraying a variety of roles from mother and father to strippers and Marines.
Like all of his plays, “Cocksucker” is wickedly funny, with most of the best laughs generated by Larsen’s deadpan delivery. But, beyond the many one-liners and gratuitous full frontal nudity, the play offers audiences a veiled, but thoughtful examination of sexual identity and the willingness to compromise those roles to achieve sexual gratification.
The drama is accentuated with unusually strong sound design (also by Larsen). Sound clips of media interviews by Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton provide context to the national dialogue about sex at the time and clever musical interludes effectively set the scene and advance the plot.
The many scene changes demand sophisticated lighting that Empire Stage’s meager resources can’t quite deliver, and the sparse set—decorated with U.S., Marine Corps and rainbow flags—provides an unusually blank canvas for the action.
“Cocksucker” still needs some polish, but the message was never lost on the mature gay men in the Empire Stage audience, some of whom may just be able to identify with Isaac’s conundrum.
“Cocksucker: A Love Story” by Ronnie Larsen is being performed through March 6 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $30 at EmpireStage.com. Larsen will also host “The Naked Penis Talk Show” at Empire Stage on Saturday, Feb. 20. Tickets are $25, also at EmpireStage.com.