Review: Surprise, surprise! ‘Ritu Comes Home’

 In InterAct Theatre's world premiere production of

In InterAct Theatre's world premiere production of "Ritu Comes Home," from left: Jered McLenigan, Annie Henk and Rebecca Khalil. Khalil plays Ritu. (Photo courtesy of Kathryn Raines/Plate 3)

The funny new play called “Ritu Comes Home,” is a paradox: It’s as urbane as it is juvenile. That’s because its main characters are each composed of both parts. They jump on the newest trends one moment, and jump on each other the next.

InterAct Theatre Company is giving “Ritu Comes Home,” which it commissioned in a new-play project, a zippy world premiere under the direction of the stage company’s leader, Seth Rozin. The play by Peter Gil-Sheridan is a successful mix of social commentary, cheesy stereotypes and fantasy. Its dialogue races like a motorcycle ride on an empty highway, and the give-and-take is a genuine good ride. After it’s finished at InterAct, I bet that “Ritu Comes Home” will have legs.

The plot involves a gay male couple, one of them (played by David Bardeen) a fastidious guy – don’t look cross-eyed at his new rug because he might accuse you of ruining it. The other, an actor, (Jered McLenigan) is more erratic and affected – but no matter their traits, both characters have their hearts and spirits in a good place at their middle-class Bryn Mawr home. For years, one of them has been sending about perhaps $30 each month to an agency to sponsor a poor child, in this case Ritu of Bangladesh. In turn, she writes him monthly notes about her life and acknowledges the generosity. She’s now a teenager.

One morning after a particularly drunken night at the house with an ever-present outgoing Latino woman who is their best pal (Annie Henk), all three wake up to an astonishing sight: Ritu. She has mysteriously appeared, girlish and wide-eyed and incomprehensible as she babbles on about the comforts of the house in her native tongue (which, to the audience but not the other three characters, is English).

Suddenly, these hip and free-wheeling (or sophisticated and childish) and thoroughly self-possessed adults are confronted with a teenager among them. They fret and even begin to despair, but they cope.

Ritu is played by a University of the Arts student, Rebecca Khalil, charming in the role and, in some scenes, the perfect picture of naivety and suspicion. Is that because all this is foreign to her, or because she’s a teenager? Part of the play’s fun is that you can’t tell – Khalil nicely plays her as complex. Another actor, Amar Srivastava, makes an appearance later in the show, when the subject of Ritu’s future has become more urgent even as she’s more comfortable in what’s now her home.

The spot-on cast colors the show with precise emotional hues: Smug when they’re being cool, almost childlike when they’re being silly, and befuddled when they’re at dead ends. Those dead ends don’t last long, because “Ritu Comes Homes,” which has an indulgent set-up but revs and then never stops, takes on a surreal quality. Still, whatever form the play is in at the moment, it’s a good laugh for the audience.

_“Ritu Comes Home,” produced by InterAct Theatre, runs through June 22 at the Adrienne Theatre, Sansom Street between 20th and 21st Streets. 215-568-8077 or www.interacttheatre.org.

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