It was somewhat surprising that "Steambath," the current production at Silver Spring Stage, was not a tragedy about the August weather in Washington, but a comedy about an ambivalent God disguised as the Puerto Rican attendant at a sleazy, steambath purgatory.
Rich Blank grates the nerves with his well conceived divinity, piercing the stage fog with the dialect-heavy lines of playwright Bruce Jay Friedman. If ever there was an X-rated play, this is it -- the towels remain in place but the language and its subject are rough and exposed.
Ron Mulligan is Tandy, the comedy's weary rebel who vainly challenges the irrational aspects of his fate. Merry Jo Cortada is his Jane in the jungle, providing him with physical and mental respite. Attractive Cortada shows the most consistent acting prowess of any in the cast.
Others in the cast include Charles Esser and Bryan Keeth, as two young gay men who dance and respond in duet to almost every situation (they had both committed suicide over the same person). Fred Friedman is a colorful longshoreman and Don Kenefick brings to light the various lapses in steambath etiquette among all of us. The rest of the cast typifies the cross section of those one encounters in a steambath. Their dialects were often a bit forced or unnatural and the lines were spoken as if they had been among the vapors an hours too long.
Director Bruce Hirsch performed miracles with staging, moving his actors around a devilish stage that, along with the theater's 130 seats, is divided by a giant pillar. Linda Bartash, with a clever television monitor, was able to achieve eerie effects with inspired sets and lighting.
As the Kennedy Center has its Terrace Theater, Silver Spring has this theater-in-the basement. Once a bowling alley -- the pillars support a bank on the floor above -- the stage is composed of old bowling lanes.
The show continues through Saturday.