Gaetano Proclo, a middle-aged Mafioso with a wife and kids, has a hit put out on him by his brother-in-law Carmine Vespucci. Gaetano asks a cab driver to take him to the last place on Earth where anyone would look for a mobster, and the driver drops him off at The Ritz, which Gaetano thinks is a health club, but is actually a large, lavish gay bathhouse.
Once inside, the portly Gaetano fights off the advances of a Chubby Chaser named Claude, then befriends a Camp Gay frequent Ritz patron named Chris. Meanwhile, Carmine has sent a Private Investigator to the Ritz to track Gaetano down, but instead of the one he hired, the agency dispatches dim-witted, squeaky-voiced Michael Brick out for the job. Then everyone gets mixed up in the antics of Googie Gomez, the (straight) woman who serves as the featured singer in the club's floor show. Googie, who thinks she's destined for Broadway stardom despite minimal talent, mistakes Gaetano for a famous producer.
The original Broadway production ran for over a year, with Rita Moreno winning a Tony Award as Googie. The 1976 film adaptation, directed by Richard Lester and with a screenplay by McNally, features much of the Broadway cast including Moreno, Jack Weston, Jerry Stiller, and F. Murray Abraham.
The play has been revived on Broadway twice, in 1983 and 2007. Rosie Perez played Googie in the 2007 version.
This work contains examples of:
- Ambiguous Gender Identity: Googie is so over the top in her attempts to present herself as The Diva, that Gaetano and Brick both mistake her for a drag queen. This led to a Casting Gag for the 1983 revival, when Googie was played by an actual transgender actress, Holly Woodlawn.
- Ambiguously Bi: The revelation that Claude knew Gaetano in his Army days includes the information that he hit on Gaetano back then, and the two were close enough to perform together in a long-running act where they impersonated The Andrews Sisters.
- Audience Surrogate: Gaetano if you're straight, Chris if you're gay.
- But Not Too Gay: Even a play about gays in a sexually-charged bathhouse environment by an openly gay playwright couldn't get too specific about gay sexuality in The '70s.
- Camp Gay: Chris displays all the stereotypical mannerisms of one.
- Casanova Wannabe: Chris is a notable early attempt at portraying a gay man this way. He's enthusiastic about his sexuality, but can't interest anyone else, and is reduced to dumb gimmicks like advertising orgies in his room and claiming to be Joe Namath.
- Character Name Alias: Chris signs in at the front desk as Ronald Reagan.
- Chubby Chaser: Claude is described with this very term, and doesn't object. He also has a fetish for watching his partners engage in gluttony, and arrives at the Ritz well-supplied with food.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Abe, the Ritz's desk clerk, who usually makes a sarcastic comment about the incoming patrons when he announces their arrival on the loudspeaker.
- Chris gets a lot of the play's laugh lines as one.Chris: Strange as it may seem, no one's gonna attack you.Gaetano: Someone already has.Chris: Beginner's luck!
- The Ditz: Brick, who claims that he can't find "a balding, middle-aged fat man" in the club despite Gaetano crossing his path a bunch of times. He also intersects with Dumb Muscle and Brainless Beauty.
- Everyone Went to School Together: Gaetano and Claude served in the Army together, though it takes them a while to realize it.
- Fictional Counterpart: The Ritz is very obviously based on The Continental Baths. The use of a loudspeaker system (ostensibly to warn patrons of police raids) was a particular Continental Baths trademark.
- The Film of the Play: It's very faithful to the original production, with Terrence McNally doing the screnplay adaptation, and Jack Weston (Gaetano), Jerry Stiller (Carmine), Rita Moreno (Googie), F. Murray Abraham (Chris), Paul B. Price (Claude), John Everson (Tiger) and Christopher J. Brown (Duff) all reprising their Broadway roles.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Gaetano suffers a bit from Gay Panic and has a few moments like this, but since he also has the greater panic of trying to hide from someone who wants to kill him, it's not a major part of the story.
- Honey Trap: Carmine's plan is to have Michael Brick seduce Gaetano, then Carmine will bring in Mrs. Proclo (Carmine's sister) to catch them. That Brick isn't very bright, and with his voice, not very seductive, is only the beginning of the problems Carmine has in executing this scheme.
- Lovable Sex Maniac: Chris actually says that people call him a "sex maniac." Claude also fits the type. But Chris isn't very successful in his pursuit of men, and Claude is actually a rather creepy fetishist who's not above committing assault.
- The Mafia: The Vespuccis are a big New York crime family. Gaetano married into the family, and they've never liked him, but he's gotten away from their shadow by operating in Cleveland.
- Mistaken for Gay: The main driver of the story, as, once he realizes he's in a gay bathhouse, Gaetano tries to avoid this happening to him.
- Mistaken Identity: As a classically-styled Farce, this is all over the place. Gaetano jokingly signs in as Carmine Vespucci, then everyone calls him by his brother-in-law's name. Michael Brick, never having met Carmine, assumes Gaetano is Carmine. Then Brick also assumes Googie is a drag queen. Meanwhile, Googie, who's been told that a famous producer is in the house as a way to distract her, thinks Gaetano is the producer.
- Noodle Incident: Whatever Chuck did to get disinvited from the Crisco Oil party in room 419, it was nasty enough to make a career criminal like Gaetano flinch when it gets whispered in his ear.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Gaetano shows up at The Ritz in a bad wig, fake mustache and sunglasses.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Carmine constantly calls the Ritz patrons "fruits".
- Public Bathhouse Scene: Other than a brief prologue, entirely set in a bathhouse, and most of the characters wear only towels through most of the story.
- The Reveal: A chance comment by Maurine, the strait-laced accountant, reveals that Carmine Vespucci actually owns the Ritz, then we learn Carmine also owns the cab company, and specifically had the driver bring Gaetano to the Ritz.
- Serious Business: Claude seems almost hurt when Gaetano says he hates The Andrews Sisters.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: Googie curses constantly, in both Spanish and English.
- Small Name, Big Ego. Googie, combined with High Hopes, Zero Talent.Googie: Someday, you're gonna see the name of Googie Gomez in lights and you're going to say to yourself "was that her?" And you're gonna answer to yourself, "that was her!" But you know something, mister? I was always her, just nobody knows it!
- Spicy Latina: Googie embodies this as much as possible, almost to the point of self-parody.
- Stop Being Stereotypical: It's implied that a lot of Chris' problems with not being able to hook-up are because the other Ritz patrons think he comes on too strong with his Camp Gay persona.
- Stylistic Suck: Googie's singing is meant to be horrible.
- Take Our Word for It: We never get to see inside the Steam Room, but the comments and reactions by the characters all suggest that there's some heavy-duty decadence happening in there.
- Those Two Guys: Tiger and Duff, the Ritz's attendants. The play even specifies that they're supposed to be played by actors who look similar to one another.
- Vocal Dissonance: Young, handsome, muscular Michael Brick has a really high-pitched voice. He claims that his voice never went through puberty.