Re-bar is unique among Seattle's theatrical venues. It's not the smoke and booze and predominantly gay clientele—there's a musky, carnivalesque feel to the joint, a secret-knock speakeasy appeal that seeps into your skin and psyche like a contact high. Plays at Re-bar end up conforming to the space part and parcel, and not vice versa, a fact that obviously worked in everyone's favor a few years back when Nick Garrison and crew took the city by storm with Hedwig and the Angry Inch. That David Bowie bonanza, with its loud, live music and edgy gender-bending, fit so well into the dark crannies and subversive coziness of Re-bar, it was hard to imagine it playing anywhere else. Whether that's the case with Open Circle Theater's production of The Ritz (through Sat., June 25, at Re-bar; 206-382-4250 or www.octheater.com) is arguable, and will depend almost entirely on such idiosyncratic variables as the mood, makeup, and intoxication level of the audience on any given night.
The Ritz is a baggy, shambling piece of work—it has the feel of a drama-club slumber party—which is not to say that its individual elements are weak or careless. The large, talented cast of this sexual farce, written by Terrence McNally and directed by Jose Amador, rev at a consistently high level, and the wacky, preening fun they have with the script is infectious. The material itself is actually standard farce fare, save for the slight twist that the action takes place entirely in a gay bathhouse. That's the rub, and that's all the rub-a-dub you need, apparently: Substitute the orthodox farcical spins of mistaken identity with mistaken sexual orientation, and the chase is on.
The fun starts when Gaetano Proclo (Alan Wilkie) checks into the Ritz in order to hide out from an apparently family-ordered hit by his mafioso brother-in-law, Carmine Vespucci (Aaron Allshouse). "Stay out of the steam room," the clerk tells Gaetano, to which he replies that he's familiar with the YMCA, thank you. Even after encountering a parade of the regular homo clientele—Chris (Jeffrey Gilbert), the "chubby chaser" Claude Perkins (Andrew Tasakos), and the lovers Tiger and Duff (Mike Pham and Eric Sandoval)—it still takes naive Gaetano a while to figure out he's in one of "those places," and by that time, the zaniness is in full swing. Add the divalicious antics of Puerto Rican aspiring starlet Googie Gomez (sassy Rebecca Davis), who's looking for a producer, and, as Chris says, "It's like some strange gypsy heterosexual curse has been put on this place tonight."
By the second act, entire trains of characters either in pursuit or running away are crisscrossing the entire space of the bar, cutting through the audience, ducking in and out of rooms, and generally making havoc. There is no fourth wall at Re-bar, and the idea of audience participation is moot. This is a genre unto itself: casual yet chaotic, intimate yet whimsical, like a staging for friends—family night every night. Any appeal this show has derives from being on the right side of the wink when intermission ends with a drag queen named Adé belting out "On the Radio," "It's Raining Men," and "Last Dance." If there is no challenge in preaching to the choir, there's no sin, either, and this production has spirit to spare.