Off-Off-Broadway Review: BATHHOUSE.PPTX (The Flea)

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by Paola Bellu on March 23, 2024

in Theater-New York


Staged at The Flea Theater in Manhattan between the FBI building and an apocalyptic AT&T windowless high tower, Bathhouse.pptx — described as a “group project for perverts” by its creator Jesús I. Valles — comes with an intangible mysterious quality before it even starts.

Sam Gonzalez as Presenter

Lights go on, and Presenter, a queer Latiné student, is showing us a PowerPoint presentation on the history of cleanliness surrounded by other students, “actors playing anxieties in the shapes of 10th graders.” Presenter is played by Sam Gonzalez who adds sweetness and a unique type of irony to the difficult role of a nostalgic horny teenager. The presentation starts with the first showers in history, bathtubs, the consequences of unpleasant body odors but the flow is interrupted by Presenters’ main obsession: the school used to be a gay bathhouse, and it’s probably populated by its ghosts.

Claudia Acosta, Gilbert Diego Sanchez, Manuel C. Alcazar,
Yonatan Gebeyehu, and Esteban Andres Cruz

They proceed slide by slide with an abundance of examples on cleanliness until the obsession becomes reality and the bathhouse ghosts are on stage. We are told and shown imaginary stories from the past, second-hand anecdotes of the salacious acts that could happen in a place that is almost an invisible apparatus where you run around wearing only a towel around your waist, and have the ability to have sex at any time with other excited people for very little effort. Valles throws in, among the many characters the cast plays, a wimpy Conquistador, (Not) Laura Linney, the CDC, Einstein, a child trying to find out if it’s safe to shower after widespread contamination, to just name a few of the unexpected ingredients of this unique mixed salad.

Yonatan Gebeyehu and Manuel C. Alcazar

The author, an educator, performer, poet, and playwright who won the 2023 Yale Drama Series Prize for Bathhouse.pptx, calls the work, “A meditation on queer longing, queer grief, and all our queer worlds that will come to pass, that will come to be.” The bathhouse in Valles’s mind becomes the cradle of transgression, “a place to let the skin feel its living,” a metaphysical entity that embraces everyone, where the body frees itself from the chains of conventions and passes nonchalantly from joy or loneliness to sexual activity. It smells “like cleaned floors dirtied and dirty floors cleaned,” populated by “mostly men, mostly things that look like men / In the darkness, mostly alone, mostly hard-hungry, / Mostly lube-slick, slightly love-sick, mostly stained sheets, / and men in stained towels.”

Gilbert Diego Sanchez and Claudia Acosta

The different characters are held in a unique form of balance: Chela is a Mexican, maternal, bathhouse cleaning lady which Claudia Acosta plays as a sociological character, giving her the right voice and posture to justify her authority; Manuel C. Alcazar is Daniel, a “look but don’t touch” bathhouse customer; Esteban Andres Cruz plays un-amused Public Speaking teacher Mx. Vazquez; Yonatan Gebeyehu is kind and haunted as Shaun, a bathhouse regular who likes to remember how it felt going there;  and Gilbert Diego Sanchez as Carlos is charmingly helpless for a  self-involved guy who does poppers or meth or both.

 Sam Gonzalez

Scenic designer You-Shin Chen, lighting designer Reza Behjat, costume designer Haydee Zelideth Antuñano, sound designer John Gasper, and projection designer Nicholas Hussong followed the writer’s anarchic form of dramaturgy and excelled in portraying, with very few means, this kingdom of the ephemeral that Valles placed at the end of the world. Valles also co-produced all elements of the production, directed by Obie winner Chay Yew.

The cast of Bathhouse.pptx

If you are squeamish about nudity, sexual content, and words like “cock goblin,” go, even if you think it will upset you. It’s a unique journey. Besides its chaotic structure, Bathhouse.pptx is a funny and truly poetic poignant piece that leaves us with a nostalgic note, the Presenter’s regret for a place from another time, inhabited by very human ghosts. In Valles’s words: “This play is an indulgence. Indulge (me).” We happily did!

photos by Julieta Cervantes
artwork by Perry Picasshoe

The Flea Theater, 20 Thomas Street
ends on April 22, 2024 EXTENDED to May 5, 2024
for tix, visit The Flea

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