RITU COMES HOME (InterAct): Two gay men who practice Safe Charity become parents

Jered McLenigan, David Bardeem in RITU COMES HOME. Photo by Kathryn Raines
Jered McLenigan, David Bardeem in RITU COMES HOME. Photo by Kathryn Raines

The set, a bright posh living room on the Adrienne’s mainstage, is attractive, well designed and beautifully lighted. A gay male couple lives here. Meanwhile, Ritu, the good deed in their self-indulgent Main Line lifestyle, lives in poverty at a very safe distance – in Bangladesh. Jason (David Bardeen) and Brendan (Jered McLenigan) ease the paucity of Ritu’s (Rebecca Khalil) existence by sending monthly checks through an aid organization. The last thing in the world they’d ever expect would be for their charity case to show up in their living room.

You can’t help but warm up to the characters. Bossy but loveable Jason and his sweet, sometimes infantile partner, Brendan are turned out by two estimable actors. Their pal, hyperactive and coarse but caring Yesenia (Annie Henk), keeps things popping. Wide eyed Ritu is played with just the right secret brattiness, while Akash (Amar Srivastava) supplies hunkitude.

If only we spectators could share in the lemon drop cocktails. It would help to get a bit blitzed ourselves during the play’s comically vulgar, booze fueled lead-in, with Yesenia as the ringleader. While the carrying-on is over the top and goes on far too long, it does provide a good look at the sophisticated house, its unsophisticated inhabitants and their relationships before Ritu’s unexpected arrival.Seth Rozin directs with surprising abandon. It’s loud and zany, but a directorial tendency to encourage milking the lines sometimes renders them less uproarious than they might have been. Some slight restraint on the part of the actors might serve as a catalyst for audience response, inviting more laughs.

Peter Gil-Sheridan’s flamboyant script provides a subtle and neat conceit: Ritu speaks English and the audience understands her, but the other actors “hear” it as a foreign language.

Annie Henk, Jered McLenigan, David Bardeem in RITU COMES HOME. Photo by Kathryn Raines
Annie Henk, Jered McLenigan, David Bardeem in RITU COMES HOME. Photo by Kathryn Raines

Because this is InterAct, long-time liberal conscience of Philadelphia theater, I was waiting for the punch of underlying political substance to emerge from some deep well of cultural significance. But RITU COMES HOME only dips into topic sampling. A light domestic comedy with a twist, it can’t fairly be criticized for a lack of heft. And a deep cultural chasm actually does appear: Jason’s treasured mucho expensive Persian rug reflects his refined taste, while Brendan and Yesenia shop at Macy’s.

If we were sitting around a table sipping Margaritas, there’d be more conversation fodder to be gleaned from other dimensions of this production. But when a concept piece hangs on a single idea or trick, it would be a disservice to give away its secrets.

A bit of that liberal InterAct conscience surfaces when Brendan says, “Feeling white is being out of touch with anything but yourself.” But other than that, the only baggage the play carries is a suitcase. Let’s leave it at that for now.

Note: This production is a World Premiere. Playwright Peter Gil-Sheridan received InterAct Theatre’s 20/20 Commission award for RITU COMES HOME in 2009. Brave news: InterAct’s upcoming 2014-2015 season will be composed of all World Premieres. [The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street.] May 30–June 22, 2014. interacttheatre.org.


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