InterAct Debuts New Gay-Themed Play, Ritu Comes Home

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David Bardeen and Jered McLeniga in “Ritu Comes Home.” Photos by Plate 3/Kathryn Raines.

Last night, InterAct Theatre Company world-premiered its latest show, Ritu Comes Home, at the Adrienne Theater. The story follows Brendan and David, an affluent gay couple who live happy, carefree lives in Bryn Mawr, well, until their Bangladeshi “adopt a day” daughter Ritu shows up.

I had a chance to sit down with Brooklyn-via-New Jersey playwright Peter Gil-Sheridan over the weekend to chat about the show, why he set in Philly, where the inspiration comes from, and then we make some funnies about Venture Inn.

G Philly: What is your connection to Philly?
Peter Gil-Sheridan:
My relationship with Philly started with InterAct five years ago, when I got a 20/20 commission — a program you apply for. You send them an idea, they say they like your idea and they pay you to write it. … It’s a commission for political plays, and they liked [Ritu Comes Home] because it’s [political and a comedy.] Most political plays are … heavy. This one has heavy things going on, but it obviously doesn’t play as heavy.

GP: What are some of those political themes you explore in the show?
The idea that we as gay men are having to negotiate what it is to live alongside people who have different cultural beliefs than us. And how we make certain assumptions, as well. We can be oppressive in our way, and vice versa. The play explores how we all co-exist in one space together, and how we build new families and units. It’s like the dirty Modern Family, in a way.

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The cast of “Ritu Comes Home.”

GP: Where did you get the inspiration?
PGS: It started one night when I was at my friends’ house in Minneapolis. They had a picture of a kid on their fridge that they adopt for 80 cents a day. We were all getting drunk, and I was like, “could you imagine if we woke up in the morning and she was here?” We all laughed, and my friend Christopher said you should totally write that as a play. So that’s how I proposed it to InterAct.

GP: Tell me more about the two main characters.
PGS: Jason, played by David Bardeen, is the more traditional character. He has a good job. He makes good money. He wants all of the things that you are supposed to have in life: a house, a car, a vacation. But what he doesn’t want is the family trappings. He doesn’t want the kids and those kinds of responsibilities. He doesn’t want to be hetero-normative in that particular way. Brendan (Jered McLeniga) is an actor. He is more loosey-goosey about his life and his schedule and his lifestyle. But he does want the more hetero-normative things. So the play explores that: Who are these two men, and how do we establish our identities as gay men? Do we struggle with what we want versus what we don’t want? They have different wants and needs in their relationship, so it questions how you  make that work. In the end they succeed by finding something that will benefit each of them. Some of it is by being more gay, and some of it is being traditional.

GP: Who is their friend, the fruit fly?
PGS: Yesenia (Annie Henk). She’s the most like me. She fits in just as the person who can really tell them the truth. The person who can get at them, who herself has some questions about the kind of life she wants to live as a woman. … She’s an actor but she is sort of settling into a job. She thinks maybe that’s what she should do. She’s in this kind of middle ground. She is definitely an important component of it. I’m really interested in the way women and gay men relate to each other, and make family together. How they establish the same kind of complicated dynamics you would establish with your sister. You end up in conflict with them. She is a super important part of the play.

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Jered McLeniga and Annie Henk.

GP: Why did you decide to set the play in Philly?
PGS: I wrote it for a Philly theater, so I decided to set it here. I actually don’t know Bryn Mawr at all. It’s totally my imagining of what that area would be.

GP: There’s a joke in the dialogue about Venture Inn. Have you actually been to Venture Inn?
PGS: I have! It’s my boyfriend’s favorite bar here in Philly. When I was in Philly last time — it was in the summer — I stayed in the Gayborhood. That’s where our housing was. The Venture Inn was right across the street. He loved it, so the joke actually is in there for him.

GP: Why does he love it?
PGS: He loves it because it’s not … fancy. He likes dive bars. It’s his kind of place, because it feels like a pub, a gay pub as opposed to that club feel.

GP: Well, the joke worked well. I thought it was a nice interjection.
PGS: Funny you say that. It rarely works, because I think you have to be someone who goes to gay bars to get it.

GP: Well you know what the nickname of Venture Inn is: The Denture Inn.
PGS: [laughs] I did not know that! I can’t wait to tell him. That is hilarious.

Ritu Comes Home runs through June 22nd at the Adrienne Theater. Tickets can be purchased here. Wanna see it with a big gang of gays? PhillyGayCalendar’s Qventures group is hosting a field trip on Saturday, June 14th. More info on that can be found here. In the meantime, check out the trailer below: