by John Quinn
10 Naked Men
The Ringwald Theatre
22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale
May 15-June 8; Friday, Saturday and Monday evenings at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 3 p.m.
If LGBT playwright Ronnie Larsen is to be believed, there are uncanny parallels between professional actors and professional “escorts.” Both fields embody the adage, “Practice makes perfect.” Both require ambition, self-promotion and a thick skin when promotion fails. In contrast, one is considered – at least in the modern era – a legitimate vocation, and the other a tawdry, illicit activity suitable only for social pariahs. To you gentle reader, I leave the determination of which is which.
In 2013, The Ringwald Theatre produced “Making Porn,” Larsen’s wickedly funny skewer of the adult film industry. Lisa Melinn garnered a Wilde Award nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy. In a similar vein, Larsen’s 2002 closely meshed vignettes are satires of participants in the broader “entertainment industry” and the West Gomorrah which attracts them.
But down to the gritty details of this show. All you voyeurs asking, “Do we really get our 10 naked men?” Well, yes, in a way. In the course of a prologue, delivered by The Narrator (James E Lee III), the rest of the cast trots out in the buff with only a piece of cardboard for cover. When they had their places on stage, the card spells out “10 Naked Men.” When reversed, they spell out our setting, “Hollywood.” That, as The Narrator cynically notes, got us into the theater. The conceit is gratuitous; the casual nudity that occurs in the course of the play is safely in context.
Robert, a Detroiter with a newly-awarded MFA (from WSU and the Hilberry Theater, of course) clutched in his fist, joins his college roommate – Kenny (Richard Payton) – in LA, seeking fame, fortune or at least a few acting roles. That simple beginning spawns a web of convoluted relationships, and the chance for Larsen to tar and feather actors and agents – and escorts and “Johns” – with the broadest brush. Brenton Herwat, Alex Hill, Dennis Kleinsmith, Tim Stone, Mark Vukelich, Ben Wright and Chris Young fill out this merry band of misfits.
The cast is pretty strong and very secure in their roles, and also comfortable with the “full monty” those roles call for. Let us note that “10 Naked Men” marks Brandy Joe Plambeck’s return to The Ringwald after a three-year stint at The Hilberry Theatre, where he obtained his MFA in acting. How appropriate, then, he be cast as Robert. Mr. P, you have been a fine comic actor for as long as we’ve been able to catch your work. Based on your performances this season in “Boeing, Boeing,” “The Way of the World,” “The 39 Steps,” and now here, back at home, three years at the Hilberry has turned you into a superb comic actor. Your sense of timing and inflection are extraordinary.
So what can we say about “10 Naked Men?” Bluntly, it’s nowhere near as strong a script as “Making Porn.” Larsen wrote a convoluted plot, illustrated by intertwined vignettes, to achieve the broadest reach for his satire. The result is a scattershot of one-liners that hold the show back from reaching the next level even while the show is directed by the formidable director Joe Bailey who was in the original Los Angeles and subsequent Off-Broadway premiere.
“10 Naked Men” can be appreciated by an audience who is willing to work with the playwright, listen to each character’s story, and pay attention to the rapid interplay of emotional commitment. If there was ever a time to remind you, “Dude, my eyes are up here,” this is it.