Originally written by Bruce Jay Friedman more than 40 years ago, the Carolina Actors’ Studio Theatre’s (CAST) production of “Steambath” is both highly entertaining and greatly meaningful.
Tandy (Christian Casper) arrives in a limbo between life and afterlife portrayed as a steambath. Upon first sitting next to an “old timer” (Jim Esposito, whose character is reminiscent of Danny DeVito’s Louie De Palma from “Taxi”), Tandy is unaware of his own death. Shortly after Tandy meets a ditsy blonde girl (Shannon Wightman-Girard, also the show’s choreographer) whose trivial concerns carried over from her life on Earth (Bloomingdale’s, Mounds bars) are juxtaposed against Tandy’s seemingly more substantial regrets (strained relationship with his 10-year-old daughter, new girlfriend, his next book). Stubborn to give up on his mortality, Tandy becomes determined to get a second chance at rectifying the time he wasted in his life.
When he meets God (J.R. Adduci), Tandy initially refuses to believe the lowly janitor is truly the Almighty — Tandy’s doubt frustrates the emotional creator greatly. After a few fairly unconvincing and comical feats to prove his divinity, Tandy eventually tries to convince God to let him return to Earth, and that is where the real fun begins.
God is portrayed as a Puerto Rican steambath attendant who is perhaps slightly crazy and clearly not all-knowing. Instead of the wise omniscient figure most of us would expect, God seems more like a stressed out air traffic controller — except he’s not only directing planes in the sky, but also orchestrating every other event on the planet. Adduci’s hilarious performance portrays an idea of what might be those “mysterious ways” in which God is known for working.
Well-conceived and excellently performed characters will keep you entertained throughout the entire play. The main characters are hilarious but so are the other characters who dance, sing and banter, in addition to bringing the story together nicely. Including a wealth-obsessed stockbroker, God’s odd assistant Gottlieb (German name meaning God’s Love), two gay men (who are nude very briefly) and several others, the supporting cast makes a great contribution to the show.
Even if certain gay stereotypes or gay slurs — used in perfectly tasteful humor — sometimes make you cringe a little, you will still deeply appreciate “Steambath.” The play begs the question, what if you died right now? Would you walk proudly into the light (or disintegrate into oblivion, depending on your beliefs), or would you have regrets? “Steambath” is powerfully profound inspiration to not just live but do so with vigor and drive every single day — because, after all, each day could be your last.
info: “Steambath” is currently on stage. Learn more about the show, get show times and buy tickets at nccast.com. A special showing for the Charlotte Business Guild will be held on Tuesday, September 21.