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Comedy follows local playwright's journey from New York actor to Boca pimp

Staff Writer

Even if Josh Mesnik hadn’t turned his South Florida adventures into a play, they would still make one hell of a story.

The New York actor moved here in 2005 for alcoholism rehab and ended up working at a Boca Raton escort agency. He wrote a comedy about going from musical theater to pimping call girls titled “Have I Got a Girl for You,” which is getting a Florida premiere by Island City Stage through April 27.

Oh, and though he is nine years sober, the Palm Aire resident works as a sommelier in an Intracoastal restaurant. More about that later.

“At first, I just had a phone interview,” Mesnik says of the escort agency. “I noticed she wouldn’t say what the business was. It turned out to be the largest women’s escort agency on the East Coast, run by an ex-Penthouse Pet. All that was said was that it was in the adult industry and would involve booking appointments.”

At that point, Mesnik says the business had, over the previous six or seven years, built a solid reputation with the executive-suite set. There were no late-night appointments or frat-boy parties and the business strictly operated from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“They never had a man [working] in the office before,” Mesnik says. “And a gay man was the perfect situation. I think she thought I never had any ambition. She could not have been more wrong.”

He worked there for nine months, first as a personal assistant to the madame and then as the manager.

He knew he had a story. “But I was not sure if it was a book, a play or a screenplay,” Mesnik recalls.

A mentor who wrote sitcoms in Los Angeles suggested a play, and five years after leaving the agency, Mesnik wrote “Have I Got a Girl for You.” In 2012, that play debuted at the New York International Fringe Festival, where it won the audience favorite award, beating out 189 other shows. The buzz “Have I Got a Girl for You” created was heard by Michael Leeds, the associate artistic director of Island City Stage and the director of this production.

“What initially drew me to this play was the originality of its premise and Josh’s fresh dialogue,” Leeds says. “I mean, the true story of a gay out-of-work actor running a female escort agency here in Boca? I’m in. It’s honest, funny and sexy, and Josh paints these dysfunctional characters with a loving brush.”

At the Fringe Festival, the comedy had a strict time limit: 80 minutes. For the Florida premiere, Mesnik says he has added 10 minutes to the running time. “About one-third is brand-new,” Mesnik says. “It has a brand-new ending, which has been an issue when you are ending a story that really happened.”

He also said he had to find a way to humanize the character who represents him, sharpening the humor. “The only way I could tell this story was through humor,” Mesnik says. “Some of the things are horrifying. I mean, some of these women are doing eight or nine appointments a day. It isn’t lovely all the way. It doesn’t paint a nice picture of me”

That’s what cinched the show for Island City Stage, a company that presents works with LGBT and progressive-community themes.

“What attracted me to the script was its biting sense of humor,” says Andy Rogow, the troupe’s artistic director, “the way it portrayed the escort industry as a successful and sometimes stressful business, rather than in a tawdry, cliched manner.”

The title comes from a song in Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.” Mesnik is a stage-musical fanatic. “There’s a lot of musical theater references in this play,” he admits.

Locally, as an actor, Mesnik has appeared in the comedy revue “Laffing Matterz” and the now-defunct New Vista Theatre Company’s production of “Funny Girl.” He had stints at Stage Door Theatre in shows such as “Jewtopia” and “Lucky Stiff.”

In between South Florida gigs, Mesnik waited tables, as he did while living in New York. This is how he became infatuated with wine. He enjoyed researching vineyards and sharing stories about them with his customers. “Nine years sober, and I’m a sommelier,” he says. “As a waiter, I realized I was really talented at selling wine. I would not recommend it for a recovering alcoholic, but it works for me. I’m very clear on that.”

He’s also clear that his focus now is on playwriting. Before “Have I Got a Girl for You,” Mesnik wrote short stories and helped out friends with editing advice. Learning storytelling structure and developing a practical approach to editing (“I try not to be precious about it”) helps him write for the stage.

“I’m a quick writer when I do get started,” he says. “My knack for dialogue is super strong”

He’s already putting the final touches on his next comedy — “The Penzance Project” — about the friction between community and professional theater, saying that the laughs come “ a ‘Waiting for Guffman’ way. It’s the difference a paycheck makes. The egos are hilarious in [regional theater] business. There are lots of community theaters calling themselves professional theaters, and vice versa.”

But Leeds, who as the director of “Have I Got a Girl for You” helped Mesnik reshape the comedy, doesn’t think the take-away will be the playwright’s penchant for finding laughs in the underbelly of show business or the sex industry.

“I think the audience will leave not only having laughed a lot and learned a lot — if you don’t know walking in what ‘GFE’ and ‘BDE’ stands for, you will,” Leeds says, “but they’ll also find Josh’s journey surprisingly touching and, in its way, universal.”


"Have I Got a Girl for You"

When: March 29 through April 27; 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays

Where: Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive, Fort Lauderdale

Cost: $30

Contact: 954-519-2533 or

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