Sunday, July 6, 2008

Steambath (TV)

image (1973)
Directed by
Burt Brinckerhoff
Written by Bruce Jay Friedman
Starring Bill Bixby, Jose Perez, Valerie Perrine, Art Metrano, Kenneth Mars, Herb Edelman

Bruce Jay Friedman is pretty much forgotten as a writer these days, but back in the 60s, he was a big success, writing very funny short stories, plays, and novels, usually dealing with Jewish New Yorkers, like Woody Allen, though more wry.

Steambath was his second play.  It ran for several months off Broadway, with a cast that included Anthony Perkins and Hector Elizondo, but obviously wasn't a major hit. So that's probably why when it was first adapted it was done for PBS.

The play was set in a steambath (obviously). Tandy (Bill Bixby in the TV version) finds himself there but doesn't know how he got there. It's populated by a variety of people, all waiting -- though for what, no one can say -- and getting few straight answers from the attendant (Jose Perez). But eventually, Tandy stumbles on the truth:  he is dead, and the steambath is a waiting room for heaven. And the attendant is God.

Very metaphysical, but also very funny.  Tandy wants to go back to his life and we learn about the various people in the steambath.

The show as a success for PBS; the local station ran it often in their fund drives at the time.  Not only because it's an interesting play, but because of the nudity. It was a steambath, of course, and the people inside only wore towels, which didn't always stay in place, especially to towel covering the top of Valerie Perrine as Meredith.

The real find of the play was Jose Perez. His God was put-upon and short tempered and unwilling to produce miracles just to prove who he was.  He had few credits beforehand, but starred soon after in Calluci's Department in a supporting role and as the lead in On the Rocks. They even tried to make the play into a series, with no success.

Valerie Perrine -- a fine actress who was typecast because she was both sexy and willing to do nudity -- never really had the success she deserved.  Bill Bixby, on the other hand, has been one of TV's most successful leading men.

Freidman worked on some screenplays, most notably Stir Crazy and Splash, and his short story "A Change of Plan," became the basis for The Heartbreak Kid.

Maybe one day, when PBS needs pledge money, they'll bring this back to enjoy.


whymars said...

I loved this show. Is it out on the internet to download?

Paul said...

I watched it last night. I got a copy from Netflix.

Anonymous said...

how do i purchase a copy of steam bath. 2/16/2015.

Anonymous said...

I found one on Amazon

daisy meyer said...

How do you get the six episodes that were aired

daisy meyer said...

How do you get the six episodes that were aired