A sex farce about a straight businessman hiding from the mob in a gay bath house must have been risqué to Broadway audiences back in 1975, but despite some funny situations, witty dialogue and much physical humor played at full throttle by the talented cast, the revival of Terrence McNally’s ground breaking play, The Ritz directed by Joe Mantello for the Roundabout, feels decidedly tame and dated. Mantello’s kind hearted send up of a more innocent time, the decade that predated the AIDS epidemic, is pure physical farce, an amusing homage to slapstick, but the dazzling tri-level set by Scott Pask with a series of shimmering red doors manages to upstage most of the action turning the evening into more of an interesting walk down memory lane than a riotous good time.
The story follows a Cleveland sanitation company president Gaetano Proclo (Kevin Chamberlin) into The Ritz, a gay bath house, where he seeks refuge from his homicidal brother-in-law Carmine Vespucci (Lenny Venito). Trying to keep a low profile, Proclo unwittingly attracts the attention of a Ritz regular, chubby chaser (Patrick Kerr), as well as the club’s ambitious singer Googie Gomez (Rosie Perez), who has been led to believe that Proclo is a show business producer. Both stalk him relentlessly in addition to a dumb detective (Terrence Riordan), a tall handsome hunk with a high pitched voice, who has been hired by Proclo’s brother in law to rub him out. At the baths the resident den mother Chris (Brooks Ashmanskas) will attempt to come to Proclo’s aid, as his wife Vivian (Ashlie Atkinson) and her brother Carmine join the chase for him. All sorts of funny situations replete with mistaken identities will ensue before the zany evening comes to a fitting conclusion. A fun time will be had by all and will be lessons learned.
Although the play retains a certain panache and style, this is now 2007 and many of the sexual references that could have been shockingly hysterical in 1975 (I didn’t see the original, but have heard numerous tales of how outrageous it was), have been de-clawed it seems by history; necessitating rewrites that apparently remove the evening of a much needed edge. The result lacks bite, and you begin to wonder if Mantello possibly didn’t trust the revised script, and compensated by over emphasizing the style.
The trick to capturing the style is not to push, but let the circumstances accumulate, fueling the inner life so each new situation brings additional stress to the crescendo of action. Mantello’s production feels mechanical, without titillation, and we are rarely engaged in the heat of the pursuit. The pace is decidedly brisk, even manic, but little about the momentum accelerates from each preceding action, instead the cast appears to be diligently hitting their marks.
Mantello has an ensemble of good actors, each creating a particular type, but little feels lived in. Chamberlin has a nice sweet quality and befuddled air about him, but he responds to everything in exactly the same way so nothing adds up. Perez, unfortunately, delivers an intense performance that is all pushy aggression, without a nuance of charm. She is an immensely gifted performer, who can be outlandishly funny, but she comes off strident and shrill. Her Spanish/American accent, although it works well for a certain type, is sometimes difficult to decipher.
Brooks Ashmanskas is most entertaining, but he makes his character little more than a flamboyant cliché. Patrick Kerr as the chubby chaser comes off best hitting the perfect notes as his frustrations escalate with winning menace.
The evening, a visual parade of towel clad beefcake on the visual stunning tri-level set, is still tons of good natured fun played fast and furious, but the effort often shows.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
The Ritz opened October 11, 2007 on Broadway at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, for a limited engagement through December 2nd. For tickets or information call 212-719-1300, online at HYPERLINK "http://www.roundabouttheatre.org" www.roundabouttheatre.org or visit the box office.