wall, and theres virtually no plot to engage our interest or create any suspense. That shouldnt keep audiences away porn is perennially attractive, for obvious reasons but if youre looking for a show with conventional theatrical interest, this is not the one. Its aim is not above the neck but below the waist.
The story insofar as you can call it that is about Billy (Ferguson), a first-time visitor to a bathhouse whos looking for a partner but doesnt know the appropriate etiquette. An offstage voice (Bart Gonterman) instructs and guides him, and three other young men, dressed like Billy in white towels only, sing about everything from the rules of hygiene (So put a wrapper on his candy/ When hes in you/ Or you may feel the burning/ When youre in the loo) to online cruising (Im clicking for dick/ All offers considered/ Unless youre a chick) to the pleasures of the showers (Cause in the showers/ Its candy for your eyes/ In the showers/ No one can lie about their size!).
The action is interrupted by a lecture on the seven basic penis shapes, with drawings on an oversize flipchart: the Straight and Narrow, the Banana Dick, the Sidewinder, the Captain Hook, the Tricky Dick, the Plunger, and the Corkscrew (Lets just say, Im lucky to be alive).
There are sarcastic attacks on homophobic religion (They talked in Sunday school/ All about the golden rule/ Do unto others as youd have them do to you/ I learned my lesson well so if that is the case/ Before next Sunday hell be sitting on my face), but theres also a segment on Christmas at the Baths (Christmas a the baths!/ Deck the halls with balls and hollies/ Christmas at the baths/ Ive come here to get my jollies).
Finally, when the endless penis puns and sexual allusions have just about overwhelmed you, the character Maurice has a moving song about a dead lover (The gifts we gave to each other/ Still sit beneath the tree/ The memries of the life I had/ And what you meant to me.) But its too little too late: This show is distinctly not about matters of the heart. Much more typical is a lyric from an earlier anthem: Penises are special/ Penises are good/ They are always welcome in/ The neighborhood.
Angels in America it aint.
Still, these singer/dancers are talented enough to be playing in Tony Kushner or Stephen Sondheim. Its been a long time since Ive heard such strong voices outside a conventional performing arts hall, and their execution of Kirsten Stiff Walkers choreography is also superb. Unfortunately, not much effort is made to distinguish any of the characters besides naïve Billy, so I dont have a good sense of the difference between David and Teddy, or of whether Billys life would be happier with one of these rather than with Maurice. What does seem clear is that all three are obsessed with their sex organs, and none of them finds life outside the bathhouse worthy of reflection.
But thats the tendency of most porn, come to think of it: to distract its audience from worldly cares and focus it on sex exclusively. Bathhouse: The Musical certainly does this. And if the theater program is to be believed, lots of people want this distraction: The show has reportedly enjoyed sold-out runs in 15 cities in two countries.
So theres a market for porn. This we knew.
Anyway, welcome to Arts on 9th. And lets hope that future offerings will make this new space an important addition to theater life in the Bay area.
Bathhouse: The Musical @ Arts on 9th, 1513, E. 9th Ave., Tampa, 813-436-8002. Runs through July 18. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., 6 p.m. Sun. $22