The Ritz

Written By Terrence McNallyThe Ritz, Oak Park

Directed by Bob Knuth

At Circle Theatre, Oak Park

Some time capsules should be left buried.

As a farcical study in a particular and now decidedly alien zeitgeist, 1975’s The Ritz is bizarre choice for a revival from a playwright with such a vast repertoire. Broad characterizations are part and parcel for a farce, but The Ritz mistakes them for stereotypes from another era. Resurrecting this slice of life of pre-HIV life, however humorous the intent, seems a cruel example of the kind of joviality that gay men once thought they had to proffer to audiences for acceptance. A certain sense of self-deprecating humor that let straight people laugh at them while it reinforced  subconscious discomfort with the gay lifestyle. It might have once been progressive to put gays in such a compromising position uncompromisingly on-stage, but nearly four decades later it is a middling offense at worst and forgettable at best.The Ritz, Oak Park, Circle Theatre

Like the aforementioned characterizations, there’s no real plot in a farce, just a set-up for various ludicrous vignettes. The Ritz follows that encyclopedic definition to a pronounced fault. The Ritz’s set up  reads like the last 10 minutes of The Birdcage. A man, Gaetano Proclo (Dennis Schnell), is on the run from his mafioso brother-in-law who wants to off him for reasons that are never really crystal clear (more stereotypes regarding Italians also abound). When a taxi takes him to the place he is least likely to be found, he finds himself inadvertently hiding in a Manhattan bathhouse of some repute. Once inside, he encounters a litany of gay tropes, including but not limited to a chubby chaser and a faded nymphomaniac. There’s also a third-rate Puerto Rican performer Googie Gomez (Elizabeth Morgan, easily the scene stealer). Mistaken identities, bizarre motives and even a Benny Hill-esque chase scene round out this curio of a production.

The grand age of the farce genre was waning even when The Ritz was written, and many of its tenets have found their way into television sitcoms (see Will and Grace, which is already showing signs of age—sorry everyone who loves it still). As the need to keep up appearances ebbs away  in our post-modern age, so too do the ironies of juxtaposing those false pretenses with uncomfortable realities. It’s a genre in need of revitalization, not repetition. There are still some bastions of old-fashioned pretension just aching for send up, but as gays continue to make progress across the country, The Ritz becomes merely unsophisticated tripe.

With a cast of twenty—the gay male’s libido is an uncredited character, as is heterosexual insecurity—a massively complex stage and a two-hour run time, the question I had to ask upon exiting was “Why?” Why revive this play now? Was it so charming it was felt that it deserved to be shown to a new audience? It can’t be that people born after 1980 will find this lifestyle relateable, or the humor timelessly timely. Why expend the effort of so many people? The only purpose in producing or viewing is as a piece of social archaeology, a fossil of a another age that demonstrates just how much evolution has occurred in the interim.

Not Recommended.

Clint May

Date Reviewed: March 3,  2012

For more info checkout The Ritz page on www.circle-theatre.org

At Circle Theatre., 1010 W. Madison, Oak Park IL; call 708.660.9540 or visit www.circle-theatre.org; tickets $24-28 (student, senior & group discounts available); performances Fridays and Saturdays 8pm and Sundays 3pm; running time 2 hours minutes with 15 intermission; through April 1.