The Miami Herald

Review | For summer fun, the play’s the thing

Special to The Miami Herald

 Brooks Braselman's kvetching in her leopard-print PJs while David R. Gordon takes his turn in a killer role.
Brooks Braselman’s kvetching in her leopard-print PJs while David R. Gordon takes his turn in a killer role.

If you feel like a nightcap after dinner, Empire Stage has whipped up a little number that will hit the spot.In its first summer season, the Fort Lauderdale company is premiering He’s Coming Up the Stairs!, a comedy written by Empire producing partner Garet Scott and directed by Kevin Thomsen, co-creator of MTV’s satirical cartoon series Spy Groove.

The fizzy concoction is, as Scott says, perfect for summer: tastes great, less filling.

The play hangs loosely, tongue-in-cheekily on the plot of the 1948 classic suspense film Sorry, Wrong Number, in which an invalid inadvertently overhears plans for her murder. Not to worry. Before you can say Barbara Stanwyck, it quickly degenerates into hilarious absurdity and camps up the noir with kitsch.

Empire has taken over the cozy space formerly occupied by Sol Theatre. The seating, bookended by couches that give it a lounge-y feel, goes well with the onstage chaise over which headliner Brooks Braselman drapes herself before bounding into the audience and slinking between the rows.

The audience good-naturedly becomes part of the act as Braselman sings, mutters asides (one of the funniest unscripted bits occurred when a giant faux diamond flew off her finger opening night) and tosses an invisible prop to a front-row occupant — who mimed catching it.

Hypochondriac heiress Sally Winston, played with unflagging energy by Braselman, is clad in leopard pajamas, surrounded by pill (and wine) bottles and may be on her last legs. She preens, scolds her nurse (“Why must the little people be so vexellacious?”) and peeks through the “window treatments,” fretting about how the New York social scene gathered at Ivana’s (no last name required) is getting on without her.

Braselman’s four fellow cast members play a variety of roles with a delicious dollop of cheese. Empire Stage partner David R. Gordon is Sally’s cheating husband, Jeff, and one of the killer goons. Emily Shaffer plays Jeff’s mistress, Kimba (“Kimba? With that name she doesn’t need a husband; she needs Siegfried and Roy,” Sally mugs), young Sally in flashbacks and the nurse. Vance Julian Barber does several stock roles — the father, the butler, the bad guy — each with a different funny mustache. Scott does a couple as well, but her sendup of claws-out Ivana deserves special note: “You do not know about ze Kimba?” she purrs in mock surprise after spilling to Sally.

And if you want to talk about cheese, Sally, mooning over wayward hubby, croons Delta Dawn and Cher hit Dark Lady. In a funny line likely to be lost on anyone born after 1970, she tells a masked gunman, “You could be Jean-Claude Killy for all I know. Who knows what happened to him after the ’68 Olympics.”

Braselman and company really work it, but the operative word here is play. Empire Stage brings the fun, and, as Sally tells her nurse, the least you can do is accessorize.


Making Porn: Review


Playwright Ronnie Larsen on his 1995 comedy-drama Making Porn:

The first preview was sold-out.
The reviews were horrible.
More sold-out shows.
Everytime a bad review came out our ticket advance grew.

Hopefully this good review won’t kill ticket sales at the new 48-seat Empire Stage theater in Fort Lauderdale, where a current production of Making Porn runs Thursdays to Sundays through Feb. 7.

Making Porn first played South Florida in 1998 at the Colony Theatre on Lincoln Road. 1980s gay porn icon Ryan Idol starred as Jack Hawk, a straight out-of-work actor who quietly takes a job in a gay porn film and reluctantly becomes a star.

Casting Idol in the star role caused a minor sensation on South Beach and the month-long run at the 400-seat Colony regularly sold out. (Making Porn contains much male frontal nudity and several simulated sex scenes.)

As gay-porn fans know, however, their Idol never was the world’s greatest actor.

The current Empire Stage production is well acted, and well directed.

New York-based actor David R. Gordon stars as Jack, a part he first played during Making Porn’s national tour in the late ‘90s. Gordon – a legitimate actor, the show’s producer and also new owner of Empire Stage theater – knows the material well and appears quite comfortable with the adult situations that arise onstage.

Julia Clearwood, a mainstay at Fort Lauderdale’s old Sol Theatre Project (where Empire Stage is now located), plays Jack’s wife, Linda, who at first becomes sick to her stomach upon learning her husband makes a living having video sex with other men.

Gordon and Clearwood work well together and are quite believable in their scenes together.

Actors Keith Dougherty and Michael Lopez (also the production’s director) are Making Porn veterans. Both appeared in the show’s 1998 South Beach production with Ryan Idol. They play their parts as boyfriends/porn filmmakers with energy and conviction; neither walks through his role.

The two cast surprises are Ryan McFadden, who plays a 20-year-old porn hopeful, and Angel Perez, who co-stars as longtime porn star Ray Tanner.

McFadden starts off a bit goofy but soon shows an endearing comic flair.

Perez has the hardest job of all, not having his acting talents obscured by performing the most explicit scenes in the play. Let’s just say it’s a close shave, but Perez manages to pull it off. His Ray Tanner (a role often played by real-life porn stars) is human and – just one more double entendre, please – fleshed out.

Making Porn is not for everyone. Some will find it too explicit, others not explicit enough. But for the sold-out audience on Saturday night, Ronnie Larsen’s play was just right.

by Rod Stafford Hagwood
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, January 30, 2009

In her essay Notes on Camp, Susan Sontag wisely assuaged: “The whole point of camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, camp involves a new, more complex relation to the ‘serious.'”
Well then, she would have simply adored – yes, adored – the production of Roll With the Punches playing at Rising Action Theater. The cast – out of New York – really commits to taking nothing seriously, playing the camp with all the steely determination of Douglas Sirk movie (picture Jane Wyman in Magnificent Obsession or All That Heaven Allows).

Those weepy “women’s movies” of the 1950s – a sub-genre overripe for the plucking – inspire the play by Garet Scott.

Roll With the Punches opens with Mark Finley as the wheelchair-bound Susan Evans, the lady of a San Franciso manor. Still got Jane Wyman in your head? OK, now imagine her played by Rock Hudson. But like his drag dropplganger Charles Busch, Finley confines his comedic performance to channeling movie melodrama rather than cross-dressing shtick. Mugging enthusiastically for a nonexistent camera, Finley’s Evans is all gnashed teeth, arched eyebrows, trembling lips, side-of-the-mouth slurs.

Evans worries about her children: a son Marshall (Jeremy Beazlie) who thinks solely of cooking and ball gowns and daughter Millicent (Jamie Heinlein) who is more suited for the red light district than stately home. Susan Evans’ philandering husband, the world famous neuro-surgeon Dr. John Evans (pitch-perfect, scene-stealing David R. Gordon) berates her for her hysterical paralysis before hiring a socially ambitious nanny Penelop Raintree.

Played by author Scott, Raintree is determined to become the second Mrs. Evans. After Susan is “accidentally” sent whizzing down Nob Hill into San Fransisco Bay, the only real threat to Raintree’s scheming is Nellie, the Irish maid who is played by each member of the cast courtesy of an apron with an attached gravity-impaired bountiful bosom.

But that’s just the frame; the real art is in suspending the laughs after intermission.

Let’s face it, Carol Burnet would have wrapped this up in-between commercials.

If you’re willing to overlook the thrift store set and the almost-right costumes, then the cure for whatever ails you is in the ham being served up at Rising Action.

Rod Stafford Hagwood can be reached at

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What Our Audience Has To Say About Us!

This hidden gem is just the cutest little theater with some really great acting and fabulous performances.

Paul L.

Cool place. I saw the absolutely hilarious “Thank You For Being a Friend”, the Golden Girls parody. Enjoyed every moment of it, and I’m so glad I made it a part of my vacation.

Linda F.

Went to see THANK YOU FOR BEING A FRIEND with my husband and two friends and we all had a great time! Show was smart, funny, and very entertaining! A big THANK YOU to David at Empire Stage for being so accommodating with our last-minute tickets and for putting together shows we all want to see. Can’t wait for the next one!

Ted S.

Great time at the naked comedy show! Handsome, funny and talented young men!! Not bad on the eyes!! Too bbad my 83 year old Mother was laid up in the hospital! It was her idea to see the show!!!! Greeted warmly by the host with free wine and many laughs as he warmed up the audience dressed in drag and full of wise cracks! Check it out if you get the chance!!!

Dolores S.

Satisfied every time!! Always enjoy the intimate space & relaxed atmosphere. Employs & hosts always friendly.

Gary D.

Absolutely delightful and intimate Blackbox theatre where you see and hear everything. Plenty of parking everywhere. The lobby boasts couches to sit on and wait, snacks to buy, and a certain feeling of being in a real hip theater.

Ginger R.

Intimate space. Great sound…Staff pleasent. Great venue.

Mark L.

This place was FABULOUS! We saw “The Golden Girls, thank u for being a friend” best and funniest show we ever saw. Owner could not have been nicer. We will definitely be back! Also location is terrific, so close to great restaurants, etc

Julie D.