Bruce Jay Friedman’s Steambath is a comedic relic of its time, 1970. The show is famous for its religious irreverence and nudity, old hat by then since Hair and Oh! Calcutta! had already broken the naked barrier. The play is set in a steam bath with a bunch of men having a schvitz, sweating with towels wrapped around them. It doesn’t give much away to tell you that this steam bath is the antechamber to eternity and all the characters are dead, save for God in the guise of a Puerto Rican bath attendant (fast talking, hilarious Paul Rodriguez, who alternates with Peter Pasco in the role), and his groveling assistant, Gottlieb (tap dancing Yusuf Yildiz). A new guy, Tandy (Jeff LeBeau), appears bewildered at where is and shocked when a lovely female, Meredith (Shelby Lauren Barry), strides in, strips and takes a shower. Don’t get excited; it is hard to see anything through the dense stage fog. Tandy comes to realize he is dead and complains bitterly, trying anything and everything to get himself released from “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.”
The Oldtimer (John Moskal) seems to know the ropes and gets friendly with Tandy while engaging in a running feud with Bieberman (Robert Lesser), who has annoying personal habits. A pair of darling homosexuals (DJ Kemp and Devan Schoelen), for whom the descriptor “camp” might have been coined, bubble with joyful life and enthusiasm, a seeming contradiction given the nature of the place. And the Broker (Brian Graves) bemoans the foolish trade that ruined him. Rounding out the cast in brief appearances are Shay Denison and Anthony Rutowicz. Oddly, all the characters save for Tandy seem unconcerned about what comes next until the Puerto Rican bath attendant starts displaying his quirky power with unsettling capriciousness.
The cast is excellent, but Steambath has its flaws. It is a piece of popular culture that is frankly dated and the shenanigans in the steam bath, as delightful as they are, seem empty. It is too lightweight to sustain a two-act evening. Still, it is diverting enough to recommend as an unusual theatrical experience. Director Ron Sossi gets the most he can from the script and the show is handsomely mounted with fine work by scenic designer Gary Guidinger, lighting designer Chu-Hsuan (Seth) Chang, sound designer Christopher Moscatiello, costume designer Mylette Nora and prop master Josh La Cour.
Presented by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Steambath continues through December 16 at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles.