Tuesday, March 16, 2021

501. STEAMBATH. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Anthony Perkins. (Photos: Ted Yaple.)
STEAMBATH [Comedy/Death/Homosexuality/Nudity/Religion] A: Bruce Jay Friedman; D: Anthony Perkins; S: David Mitchell; C: Joseph G. Aulisi; L: Jules Fisher; P: Ivor Balding; T: Truck and Warehouse Theatre (OB); 6/30/70-10/18/70 (128)

Anthony Perkins, Eileen Dietz.

Director Anthony Perkins took over the leading role in this Off-Broadway play after several pre-opening delays in which stars such as Dick Shawn, Charles Grodin, and Rip Torn dropped out. (Bill Bixby later played it in a TV version.) Perkins, a respected stage and film star, gave a competent performance as Tandy, a would-be writer, who dies in the prime of life and ends up in a limbo-like place where he must await God’s decision on his ultimate fate.

The premise is that limbo is a steambath and that God is a New York Puerto Rican (Hector Elizondo) attendant who wisecracks and does spectacular magic tricks to display his powers.

Hector Elizondo.

Among others in the steambath are some business types (Marvin Lichterman, Gabor Morea, Mitchell Jason), a couple of flamboyant queens (Jere Admire, Teno Pollick), and a luscious, near-nude sexpot (Annie Rachel; Valerie Perrine on TV) who has a brief, and then controversial, nude scene. Thrown among this assortment of types and temperaments, Tandy takes some time before acknowledging that he is, indeed, deceased.

There was only mild critical approbation for this black comedy in which the many funny gags and bits, often spiced with the special flavoring of Jewish humor, were incapable of sustaining interest in a situation that was not only basically familiar, but too frail to shore up a full-length play. Thus, Jerry Tallmer called it “interesting but disappointing”; Clive Barnes thought it a “trite idea” executed with “a cute sense of the ridiculous”; and Jonathan Black put it down as “banal and derivative.” Edith Oliver felt it was seriously flawed, but far superior to similar works.

Hector Elizondo, Mitchell Jason, Anthony Perkins, Conrad Bain.

Elizondo’s performance was virtuosic. “He not only commands the world, he also commands the stage . . . , loose as a goose, subtle, foxy, unflappable, dangerous to mess with,” is how Tallmer put it. His work earned him an OBIE for Distinguished Performance. Other cast members included Conrad Bain, Eileen Dietz, and Jack Knight.