'Ritu Comes Home': Fizz, fun and a feisty Bangladeshi teen

The cast of "Ritu Comes Home," presented in its world premiere by InterAct Theatre Company, includes (from left) David Bardeen, Amar Srivastava, and Rebecca Khalil as Ritu.
The cast of "Ritu Comes Home," presented in its world premiere by InterAct Theatre Company, includes (from left) David Bardeen, Amar Srivastava, and Rebecca Khalil as Ritu.
Posted: June 07, 2014

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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