Tom Judson in Canned Ham
(© Cathrynn Lynne)
Tom Judson in Canned Ham
(© Cathrynn Lynne)
Tom Judson is probably best known for starring in over a dozen adult films as gay porn star Gus Mattox. However, as seen in his entertaining, albeit sometimes scattershot solo performance Canned Ham, now at Dixon Place, he proves to be a man of many other talents, several of which he puts on display here.

The autobiographical show, directed by Kevin Malony, tells the story of how a 42-year-old struggling actor became a gay porn sensation. Along the way, we learn about such subjects as his partner, Bruce, whom he lost to AIDS; Judson's work as a composer and performer in the downtown theater scene of the 1980s and early 90s; the actor's time in the touring companies of the Broadway musicals Cabaret and 42nd Street; his stints as a male hustler, where he says he often "felt more like a social worker than a prostitute"; being discovered by gay porn director Chi Chi LaRue; a variety of truths and myths about the porn business; Judson's unlikely but surprisingly successful post-porn career as a house renovator; and his inability to dance -- which becomes a recurring joke within the production.

Oddly enough, the writer/performer doesn't divulge much about his childhood and family life, other than the fact that he grew up Presbyterian. We also never hear how he came to learn to play the diverse range of musical instruments that he has up on stage with him. Over the course of the evening, Judson plays the accordion, French horn, trombone, tenor sax, alto sax, euphonium, concertina, clarinet, triangle, trumpet, and piano. In a tour de force turn, he even plays the instruments in quick succession as he imagines a re-orchestration of one of the songs that he composed for the 1990 film, Metropolitan.

Judson is a charming storyteller, with a wonderfully charismatic smile. However, since his narrative skips around in time so much, the transitions don't always work as well as they could. Additionally, while he often has a good sense of comic timing, some of his jokes still fail to land, and the overall pacing of the show could use some tightening.

Still, he has a wealth of interesting material -- including, of course, some rather cheeky tales of working in adult entertainment. Judson knows well that this is what many people in the audience have come to hear, and he pays both loving tribute and saucy send-up to his time as a porn star (including an over-the-top entrance in nothing but a jock strap and black leather boots), even as he makes it abundantly clear that there's much more to him than simply Gus Mattox.