Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Ritz

Finding myself at a loose end in New York city last Saturday afternoon, I decide to go and see a matinee. The previous evening, I'd spotted a bill board showing three naked guys with towels wrapped round their waists. Naturally this catches my attention, and on investigation it turns out to be a revival of the play "The Ritz" by Terrence McNally, produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company.

Terrence McNally is famous for his controversial play Corpus Christi where Jesus Christ and the Apostles are depicted as gay men living in modern day Texas! With a strong gay theme and with a few naked guys thrown in for good measure, "The Ritz" seems like a good bet :-).

The play itself is a farce, set in a pre-aids 1970's gay bathhouse, and it's very entertaining. Even better, it turns out that afterwards there's a question and answer session with Terrence McNally himself. It's fascinating listening to what he has to say.

"We painted the original stage set battleship gray," says McNally, "but later we switched it to a much brighter, more cheerful colour. As a result, we got maybe 75% more laughs with an identical script, we didn't change a word!"

"How do you think the film of the play compares to the play itself," someone asks from the audience.

"Well, the film's main actors were from the original stage play, but somehow it wasn't as good. Perhaps one problem was that the director of the film never came to see the play. It was filmed in England too so it's full of pasty British bodies :-(, not really my thing!"

The audience laughs, while I sit there wondering whether I've got a pasty British body!

"Did you update the play for 2007?" asks another member of the audience.

"No, not really. Sure, some of the jokes could have been rewritten to make them current, but one doesn't update Shakespeare's plays so why update this one! What we did do was cut a few lines though, but not many, 5 or 6 perhaps. Don't forget that this play was written before Aids, so given what we know now we felt that a few lines had to go."

After the question and answer session, it's still only 4:45pm in the afternoon, so there's time for a bit of shopping along fifth avenue. And while buying a casual jacket in one of the department stores, I get chatting about "The Ritz" to one of the older shop assistants.

"Really, you saw "The Ritz" this afternoon?" says the guy who's clearly gay, "I know someone who's in it, but I haven't had time to see it yet."

"Really?" I say, surprised by the co-incidence.

"But I know they've had to change a lot from the original. I actually saw the original in the 1970's, and it was really OUTRAGEOUS!"

"Actually Terrence McNally was answering questions afterwards," I reply, not sure whether to believe this guy or not, "and McNally said that the play was identical to the original apart from a few lines which they cut out."

"That's as maybe honey but believe me, the guy who's directed this production has made it much less promiscuous than the original. Don't get me wrong, it's the right thing to do. When the original was made no one knew about Aids!"

Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. Apart from the new jacket that I managed to buy, I was glad to have the opportunity to hear Terrence McNally talking about his plays. Even if he does think that British guys have pasty bodies!


Anonymous said...

i'm a regular your blog. wish I had known you were in the city last weekend...would have happily offered to show you around (not that you need showing around from the sound of it). Me, Indian origin, an ex banker turned PE chap and live in NYC. AP
anonymous below, purely out of laziness - AP

GB said...

Thanks for the offer AP, although since you're a regular reader, I'm sure you know about my policy regarding meeting people who know I'm GB!

Anyway, I've received an interesting email about 'The Ritz' from a reader, so I've copied the core of the email below.

GB xxx

Email from Fred in Long Island NY:
I bought a VHS of THE RITZ about five years ago and, as I watched, I said to myself that it was a real artefact of a time when AIDS was not a factor. It is laced with jokes about catching colds, getting rashes, getting crabs, etc. While I have not seen the new stage play, I can't think it wasn't changed pretty drastically. Perhaps the few lines McNalley says were cut were placed so strategically as to have major impact, making it seem that the play had many more lines about getting minor illnesses in bathhouses than were actually in it. When I saw the first print ad for the upcoming (and, of course, now current) production of THE RITZ I was flabbergasted. Fifteen years ago the notion of an escapist comedy set in a bathhouse wouldn't have occurred to any Broadway producer. I do not think it is a bad idea to have revived THE RITZ. But I do have a strong feeling the people staging it went a long way to remove the unintended irony of the theme. By the way, the boys looked good in the VHS. What may be pasty to the New York sensibility is alabaster to me. And the muscles were real!

Anonymous said...

Ah i do remember now...understood...AP

czechOUT said...


can I put you in for £5?

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