Canned Ham

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Photo Source: Catherine Lynne
Tom Judson likes to make personal appearances. "I'm a nice guy; I can talk to people" he tells us, and he's right. This affable, charmingly self-deprecating actor, still a hunk at 50, glides through this somewhat ramshackle 85-minute tell-all show at the engagingly scruffy Dixon Place with a twinkle in his eye and a song in his heart. It's apparently a far cry from the persona that finally made him famous at 42: deep-voiced, dominating gay porn star Gus Mattox. But that's exactly what makes Judson's story intriguing: the incongruity of a porn star plucked late in life from the company of the national tour of "42nd Street."

Judson expects that his adult-film fans will turn out to see him, and he doesn't disappoint them (or the rest of us), stepping onto the stage in nothing but a jockstrap and black leather boots to the strains of "Also Sprach Zarathustra." But soon enough clothing is donned, and we're off on a free-associative romp through Judson's life. We hear of his husband of six years, Bruce, who died of AIDS in 1996. There are tales of failed Off-Broadway musicals he composed, his repressed Presbyterian relatives, and how his inability to dance has impacted both his legit and porn careers. A talented musician, Judson sings a number of popular standards and plays no less than 13 instruments. In one of the evening's highlights, he plays them sequentially as he demonstrates his method of orchestration for his "Theme From 'Metropolitan' "—yes, the Whit Stillman movie. On top of everything else, the man's a film composer too.

Judson's self-written script is laced with an easygoing wit: "I lowered my voice an octave to hooker level"; calling himself "the Susan Lucci of porn" because he's always nominated for awards but never wins. He's refreshingly candid discussing his career as an "escort," begun accidentally at age 38 when a guy he cruised offered to pay him and he desperately needed rent money. Indeed, his discussion of his experience of prostitution as akin to being "a social worker" is happily unapologetic and gently poignant.

Kevin Malony's relaxed direction seems intent on letting Judson be Judson. That's fine, but the show could use a little more shape and greater variance in tone. Too often shifts in subject matter come across as arbitrary and repetitive. Judson's story is unique and fascinating. With just a bit more discipline, "Canned Ham" might be too.

Presented by and at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie St., NYC. March 3Ð26. Thu.Sat., 7:30 p.m. (No performances Thu.Sat., March 1012.) (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111,, or