Stamp collectors (or should I say philatelists) know this better than anyone: errors are what keep things interesting. Theresa Rebeck is an overt writer, very explicit and crisp in tone and mannerisms, so she explains this within the play itself: damaged people are interesting too. So are interesting hybrids of character types: F. Murray Abraham plays an arms-dealing stamp enthusiast named Sterling, and Alison Pill plays both a scrap and scrapper of a girl as Jackie, who is best described as the flickering exhaust of a lighter: dangerous and fragile all at once. This is important, as Rebeck's plot is fairly obvious and in the familiar con-game tenor of early Mamet: her characters are what sustain the script, her actors are what fill the stage (John Lee Beatty's sets are intentionally bland so as to support the squalor of Jackie's life). I'm glad, then, to have Doug Hughes (Doubt) in command, who eschews spectacle for essence, and as a result often gets it. As for the rest of the cast, Bobby Cannavale understands both the aggression and the silence of a smooth talker, and Katie Finneran (who was a riot in Pig Farm) inverts her deadpan to make one of the most numbingly unconscious villains I've seen on stage. (As for Dylan Baker, both the actor and the character are superfluous: Baker's sleepwalking through a boring role.) Doesn't matter, really: I couldn't keep my eyes off Pill, who has a special tenacity of spirit that is as irresistable here as it was in Blackbird and Lieutenant of Inishmore. She'll grow up to give my favorite actress, Mary Louise Parker, a run for her money, mark my words.
There's nothing momentous about The Ritz; the closest Terrance McNally's script approaches to serious issues is when Gaetano Proclo (Kevin Chamberlin) tells Chris (Brooks Ashmanskas, delightfully spry, and as swishy in his movements as his floral robes), that gays aren't normal. He doesn't say it exactly like that, but his accidental outburst is clear: American "tolerance" is more ignorance than acceptance. However, The Ritz is a farce (one already stripped of the pallor of AIDS), so Gaetano apologizes and befriends Chris. He's just a straight man (literally) in this comedy hiding in a gay Manhattan bathhouse to escape his murderous brother-in-law, Carmine Vespucci (Lenny Venito, a real ham). And what a place: on Scott Pask's three-tiered birthday cake of a set, there's always some sort of icing going on, be it that of the chubby chasing Claude Perkins (Patrick Kerr, who plays the part as creepily as the character's name), or that of the go-go goer, Googie Gomez. (Rosie Perez plays the part well, enthusiastically violent in both her intentionally awful singing and clumsy seductions, but she's just inaudible or unintelligible half the time.) Joe Mantello does a tremendous job of keeping a lot of half-naked men in action (Take Me Out had to have helped), and the only irritating part of the show remains the role of Brick: Terrence Riordan doesn't look intimidating enough for that Mickey Mouse voice to be funny. Luckily, Chamberlin grounds the whole show in a wide-eyed glaze of stupor, terror, and (at times) curious amusement: he's the row of neon bulbs in "The Ritz" that keeps it from being "The Pitz."