Steambath (play)

"Steambath" was the second play by American author Bruce Jay Friedman to be produced. It was first performed in 1970.

This play presents the afterlife as a steam bath, in which recently deceased souls (who may not in every case realize that they are dead) continue to obsess about the same petty concerns that obsessed them in their lives. Ultimately, they are cast into another room offstage which is represented by a dark void by God, the steambath's Puerto Rican attendant and with the help of his assistant Gottlieb. In the play, the new arrival Tandy at first refuses to accept what's happened, and when he finally does, he pleads to be allowed to return to his life. "Steambath" was controversial when first produced for its obscene language (which was softened for its television version), its satirical take on religion, and some brief nudity.

Friedman claims to have been inspired to write the play in part because of a "bad experience with the food at a Chinese restaurant" that had him contemplating mortality.

In its original production, Anthony Perkins directed and played the role of Tandy with Hector Elizondo playing God (for which he won an Obie Award).

The play was then produced for PBS in 1973 with José Pérez playing God, Bill Bixby playing Tandy, and Valerie Perrine as the blonde bombshell Meredith. Perrine made television history as the first female to have her nipples displayed (intentionally, rather than accidentally) on American broadcast television, though not all PBS affiliates carried the program. The broadcast also featured the bare buttocks of two male cast members.

"Steambath" became series on the cable network Showtime in 1983 starring Robert Picardo in the Tandy role, Janis Ward as Meredith, Al Ruscio as DaVinci, Rita Taggart as Blanche and Allen Williams as Gottlieb. José Pérez reprised his role as God, who now also had a name, "Morty." (A pilot was produced and aired, later followed by five additional episodes.)

Along with "Oh! Calcutta!" the play was spoofed as "Bathtub" in the "Odd Couple" episode "What Does a Naked Lady Say to You?"


* [ Interview with Bruce Jay Friedman] by Derek Alger, "PIF" magazine

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