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THEATRE: 24 FEBRUARY 2016

By TONI CARROLL

The Ritz, by Terrence McNally | Directed by David Marshall Martin

New Theatre (http://newtheatre.org.au) | New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney | Until 5 March

I’m over this latest trend of having an actor on stage, in character, while the audience takes its sweet time filtering in to their seats. Cate Blanchett sat with her back to the auditorium, reading and smoking, before The Present. Michael Yore stood watching his haunting celluloid portrait before The Picture of Dorian Gray. And now John Farndale (Old Man Vespucci) in The Ritz lay dying in his bed as we take our seats in front of him.

It doesn’t help that the opening night full house means curtain is over 10 minutes late, which is an extra 10 minutes poor Farndale has to emit his death throes, unlit and like an afterthought.

Or maybe I’m just becoming curmudgeonly in my old age.

When the show begins, Old Man Vespucci can finally die in the company of his emotively Italian son and daughter, to the strictures of his priest.

We’re dragged quickly to a time and place by the Italian/American New York accents. Thick and loud, the accents are mostly consistent throughout the show.

The first scene sets up the basic premise of the play: Old Man Vespucci’s dying wish is to ‘Get Proclo!’, his son-in-law. He doesn’t mean that he wants to see him before he dies. No, he wants a hit and his son, Carmine (Marty O’Neill), is more than happy to carry it out.

And so begins a ribald French-like farce set in a gay bathhouse of the 1970s, pre-AIDS but post-pride. These establishments were houses of gay hedonism, where a person could rent a room by the hour, watch a cabaret, and get hot and bothered in the sauna.

Very straight Gaetano Proclo (Les Asmussen) ends up in the very gay Ritz after he jumps in a taxi to flee his in-laws and asks the cabbie to take him “the last place anyone would find me”. The rollicking pace never slows as a swathe of colourful characters run from room to room, some fleeing, some chasing. Mistaken identities abound, as do the double entendres.

Standouts are the screaming queen with a sense of humour, Chris (Samuel Christopher), who boasts that “sex is my way of saying hello”; the Charo-esque Googie Gomez (Meagan Caratti), whose 80s cabaret moves are so perfectly bad they would not have been out of place in the Love Boat’s Acapulco Lounge; Asmussen’s performance of Proclo that holds the whole crazy mess together like the chocolate in rocky road; and John Edwards’ bottom peaking over leather chaps.

Award-winning Terrence McNally’s script is a gift and, although a little dated, is chock full of snappy one liners, wonderful characters and timeless slapstick. Director David Marshall-Martin and his crew did a great job in creating a space that (mostly) works to house the ins and outs, so to speak, of The Ritz.

A fun night out!