Saturday, August 30, 2014
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Review: Ritu Comes Home

Ritu Comes Home, a world premiere by Peter Gil-Sheridan, produced by InterAct Theatre Company, directed by Seth Rozin, featuring David Bardeen, Jered McLenigan, Annie Henk, Rebecca Khalil, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield

Review: Ritu Comes Home

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By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

There's a lot to like about InterAct Theatre Company's world premiere for Ritu Comes Home, written by Peter Gil-Sheridan. Commissioned by the company in 2009, this comedy about Jason and Brendan, a bourgeois gay white couple; their Mexican American female BFF, Yesenia; and Ritu, the impoverished Bangladeshi teen the couple support "for just 80 cents a day," mixes zingy dialogue with identity politics lite and a little magic.

The play starts off so ridiculously fizzy, with Jason, Brendan, and Yesenia drinking, dancing, singing an entire rendition of "Danke Schoen," and making a mess (to persnickety Jason's ongoing consternation), that it's hard not to brace for the moment the other shoe drops, fearing that when it does, it will drop hard. But it doesn't. Ritu appears in the couple's living room, Jason disappears, and it's all gin, saris, gentle misunderstandings, and a happy ending.

Gil-Sheridan's affection for these characters runs deep. They're spiritually empty and desperate to connect with one another but can't quite see past their own interests. When Brendan calls a friend to see if he has heard from Jason, he says, no, this isn't about the Cuisinart, and anyway, "We don't buy things on sale. It was a Groupon, not a coupon; entirely different thing." They're funny, vain, amiable, and almost never didactic - including feisty Ritu, whose unexplained arrival sets the play in motion.

But it takes a while to get things going. The play could drop a scene or two - manufactured arguments between the men and Yesenia, some of the drunken hijinks. Also, Seth Rozin's direction leans way too shouty and a hair too swishy. Fantastic actors such as David Bardeen as high-strung Jason and Jered McLenigan as sympathetic, fun-loving Brendan can play gay without resorting to screeching, swooning caricature. They're charming, sure, and a counterpoint to Annie Henk's hilariously no-nonsense Yesenia, but also exhausting.

Rebecca Khalil's Ritu really provides the engine here, and the University of the Arts student keeps her character lively and unpredictable. In an ingenious bit of scriptwork, Gil-Sheridan has her speak English when she's supposed to be speaking Bengali, so while her castmates smile and nod uncomprehendingly, we understand what she's saying. It's a fun bit of double-comedy, and it allows us to see her (and her jilted fiancé, Akash, played by Amar Srivastava) as fully realized people. Again, there's a lot to like here, and with a little fine-tuning there could be plenty more.

Presented by InterAct Theatre Company through June 22 at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St. Tickets: $10-$38. 215-568-8079 or InteractTheatre.org.

 

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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