Ronnie Larsen likes bathhouses. In fact, he’s been known to crash at Steamworks, the legendary Chicago bathhouse, rather than a hotel while on overnight trips to the Windy City.
“I always meet the most interesting people at bathhouses,” the gregarious theater producer and playwright earnestly said. “You never know who you will run in to.”
It’s surprising that Larsen has never penned a play about bathhouses. His “All-Male Peep Show” chronicled adventures in Times Square while the writer lived in New York City in the 1990s. “Making Porn” was an Off-Broadway hit and inspired another Larsen classic, “Shooting Porn.” And then there was the semi-autobiographical “Cocksucker: A Love Story” about a young man’s sexual adventures at truck stops. Larsen certainly met “interesting” people there.
While on one of those trips to Chicago to present his “Penis Talk Show,” Larsen saw a flyer for “Steamworks the Musical” at the local Annoyance Theatre. He didn’t think much about it at first, but on a subsequent trip, he again encountered a bill advertising the play and bought a ticket.
“It was so much fun and the actors were having a great time,” he recalled. “I knew it could be a big hit in Wilton Manors.”
The show, created by director Clay Goodpasture, composer Tara Trudell and several original cast members, is essentially a cabaret with a very thin plot featuring the patrons of Steamworks.
Al, an innocent young twink from Nebraska, arrives declaring “I’ve never been gay before,” (“except for a hot threesome in Lincoln”). He immediately meets Carol, the resident Boystown fag hag who endlessly complains that she can’t score a man on the North Halstead strip. Al quickly learns “the lay of the land” from bathhouse attendants Twinkie-Dee and Twinkie-Dum and longtime customer Chester, who claims he hasn’t left the building in 12 years.
When meeting with theater leaders about the rights, Larsen realized there was something more to the plot when he was told it was like a gay “Alice in Wonderland.” The characters were named Al (Alice), Twinkie-Dee and Twinkee-Dum (Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum) and Chester (Chesire).
“I remember thinking that sure was trippy,” Larsen admitted with his throaty laugh, “because this certainly isn’t deep theater,” referencing his recent critically-acclaimed—and serious—drama, “An Evening with John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”
Larsen was given permission to adapt the story a bit and he moved the setting to South Florida. Carol has been renamed “Jennifer McClain,” with the permission of the popular cabaret singer, and while the original production costumed the actors in towels, Larsen’s version will offer plenty of full-frontal nudity.
Larsen cast 15 local actors for the show, seeking to lend a realistic touch for audiences. There are twinks and muscle hunks, bears of all kinds, daddies and sons.
“Who wants to see a show about a bathhouse with no nudity? Really? I also wanted this production to be a celebration of the diversity of our community,” he said. “This isn’t ‘Naked Boys Singing’,” a show that typically features “pretty” boys.
Apparently, Larsen’s audiences don’t just enjoy seeing nudity on stage, they enjoy watching theater in the buff, too. Two advertised “naked nights” have already sold out and Larsen plans to add more.
“The more the merrier,” he concluded.
Ronnie Larsen presents “Steamworks the Musical,” Jan. 9 – Feb. 16 at the Foundry at Wilton Theater Factory, 2306 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors. Tickets start at $35 at RonnieLarsen.com.