RYAN IDOL IS a former porn megastar whose musclebound body is deliciously exploited for Making Porn's ads. They show him slipping off his pants with one hand and stroking his pubes with the other. The photo was taken in 1994, at the height of Idol's porn career. Though he's since gained some weight around the middle, Idol, now 32 (or so he's claimed for the past couple of years), still has a great body. (Check out the more recent picture on the right.)
For a play that's selling itself on the airbrushed images of a skin-flick star, Making Porn is unexpectedly down-to-earth. Furnishing a behind-the-scenes look at the porno-movie industry, Making Porn is a sort of Boogie Nights on stage, without any of the histrionic violence of drugs and self-delusion that befall the movie's characters. In fact, Making Porn is pretty cheery, with likable characters ranging from Ricky, a 19-year-old college freshman who's gaga over making his first porn movie, to Ray, a sarcastic wit who excuses himself from a group conversation by announcing, "I'll go lube up my asshole," to Linda, a suburban wife who becomes a porn enthusiast once she recognizes the industry's money potential.
I haven't seen much porn, but I do know that characters in porn don't need to talk to their lovers, and they don't need any foreplay—they've got the balls to throw their clothes off after a two-second exchange of niceties with their postmen and plumbers, who are always studly. So I was surprised to see that there is a story in Making Porn. I was even more surprised that the story was good. Ryan Idol plays Jack, an aspiring Shakespearean actor who falls into porn as a last resort for quick money. Jack isn't the central character in the play, but embodies the porn-is-sleaze image that most people employ even as they watch and enjoy the industry's creations.
If the play is an attempt to show that pornographers are people too, with relationships, ambitions, and capacities to fall in and out of love, it works. Ricky (Mark Allen Anderson) and new boyfriend Jamie (Flynn De Marco) have a wonderful chemistry together that's rarely seen on stage. Both are of similar height and build, with De Marco's dark sideburns and slightly older demeanor setting off Anderson's youthful, fresh-scrubbed aura. Watching them hug each other, I longed to be in love too. And that's a feeling I didn't get from watching close-ups of Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love.
MY JAW DROPPED when Ryan Idol commanded multiple studs to service him in Idol in the Sky; I sighed as he hammered away at a bike messenger in Idol Thoughts; I listened, with a raised eyebrow, to rumors about the porn star falling from a three-story window. Ryan Idol is part of queer myth, an icon fleshed out in glossy pink and sloping muscle. Making Porn deconstructs that myth, as Idol plays the supporting role of cash-hungry husband Jack, to whom porn is "just a job." And Idol inevitably falls from the stars when I spot a scar on his belly from my theater seat.
Like me, people come to this play for live flesh—which we get. But we also receive message in the meat, a reflection of ourselves rather than the simple two-dimensional fantasy found in porn. Through the couples Arthur and Ray and Jack and Linda, we see power abuse in relationships more destructive than a harmless top-and-bottom screen scenario. We find evidence of a heterosexist society when director Arthur tells novice porn actor Rick to lose the pink sweats and "butch it up" in his scene with campy yet hilarious Ray. We recognize a rampant body consciousness in the gay community when we feel our own disappointment that dialogue is more important than pecs in this production.
Instead of triggering an erection, the nude actor in Making Porn triggers thought. A group come shot elicits empathy for Linda; Ray's ass-shaving helps an audience realize the mundane; Rick's nude Oscar acceptance speech is more about dreaming than posturing. And just as Linda remarks (after witnessing the use of milk as a practical substitute for semen), "I expected something else," we admit the same to ourselves.
Despite its dated final sequence, with the awkward introduction of AIDS after an enjoyable comic romp through porn, relationships, and contemporary gay issues, Making Porn is a pleasure to watch. And although there might be some truth in Arthur's statement that "nobody goes to plays anymore," the fact remains that people will always pay for a striptease—even if speech is more important than skin.