Review by Byrne Harrison
Shows featuring former porn stars seem to have become de rigueur in Provincetown during the summer season. They draw in the crowds, not because the actor is talented or the show is compelling, but because the actor is (or was) sexy, and there is a high likelihood that he will get naked at some point in the show.
In that sense, it comes as no surprise that Tom Judson makes his first appearance in Canned Ham posing on a platform, a jockstrapped Olympian made flesh. What does come as a surprise is when he picks up an accordion a few minutes later and starts belting out "Lullaby of Broadway." This is clearly not your typical porn star memoir. This one has a sense of humor... and a talented performer.
Judson tells of the long and winding road that led from musical theatre (he was in the touring companies of Cabaret and 42nd Street) to his chance meeting with director Chi Chi LaRue. It was Chi Chi's perseverance which led to the creation of "Gus Mattox," Judson's porn alter ego, and his eventual winning of the GayVN Performer of the Year Award, sort of a Best Actor Oscar for gay porn, at the inconceivable for the industry age of 45.
Unlike many of the one-man porn star shows, Canned Ham never becomes a morality tale. No descent into drug use and degradation for Judson, porn is merely another in the amazingly long and diverse line of jobs that he has had in his life. For him, porn was a lark. That seems to be how Judson approaches much of his life, with a kind of joy and wonder.
That's not to say that Canned Ham is all light and humor. Part of what led Judson on this particular path was the death of his lover from AIDS. Though it was the roughest period of his life, it led to one of his most sublime experiences on the island of Capri, one that he describes in magical detail.
As a performer, Judson is open and amusing, with an infectious, likeable grin. At times his performance lacks a certain spontaneity - that spark that makes the audience feel that they are the only ones that Judson has told these stories to - but in the long run, his personality and the stories themselves more than make up for this. He is approachable, and happy to meet his fans after the show (and, of course, to sell them merchandise - an adorable Canned Ham t-shirt). He is just as winning offstage as on.
Canned Ham is worth seeing just for the charming and multi-talented Judson. His life stories, good natured backstage bitchery (Judson's porn co-star Pierre Fitch takes a bit of a pounding, so to speak, as does Teri Hatcher), and musical talents combine for a fun evening of theatre.
Written and Performed by Tom Judson
Directed by Kevin Malony
Costumes by William Ivey Long
The Art House
June 6-September 6, 2010