Thursday October 19th 2017

“The Ritz”

Farce is one of the hardest theatrical productions to pull off well.It is a matter of a solid script, an acting troupe with great timing and of course a director who understands the material. Over the years, I have been witness to some of the greatest of these ( oh, for the days of Shady lane Farm Playhouse in Marengo and the Forum in Summit). Of late there have been some younger troupes that have tried their hand at these productions. Circle Theatre, in Oak Park ( our very far west off loop theater) is currently doing Terrence McNally’s humorous “The Ritz” a look at “The Mob” and a New York “Gay Bathhouse” where mistaken identities and inane situations keep the laughs coming.

The story is about a mobster on his death bed requesting that his son-in-law be “hit”. Guy, the  target ( a zesty performance by Dennis Schnell)leaves Cleveland for New York, hops in a cab and asks to be taken to a place where no one will ever find hi, The hack takes him to The Ritz, a Gay bathhouse where he encounters every stereotype you can imagine, from a performer ( who everyone thinks is a female impersonator) Googie Gomez ( marvelously played by the very female Elizabeth Morgan) who thinks he is a Broadway producer, to an ex-army buddy, Claude ( brilliantly handled by John Cardone) who is what is called a “chubby chaser” and almost any other type you might suppose would be in the location where he has landed.

Some of the characters are very “Gay”, which might be a little much for Oak Park, but very funny and very “camp”. Shawn Quinlan’s Chris is hysterical, two of the employees of this “hotel”, Tiger ( deftly handled by Jordan Phelps) and his “partner” Duff ( a solid performance by Nicholas Reinhart) are not only funny in character, but shine as the back-up singers for Ms Gomez big Broadway show in the first act. This is very mindful of the stories of Bette Middler in her early days, working the Bath Houses and just this little 15 minute stint is worth the price of the ticket.

While the first act starts off a little slow, this show really shines in the second act when all the mistaken identities and chases take place along with an amateur show ( a great Andrew Sisters spoof)- this is where Bob Knuth’s direction truly shows that he is into the farce. Kevin Bellie handles the choreography ( along with the lights) and Jesus Perez does an amazing job with the construction of the costumes, making towels the fashion of the day. Knuth also designed the set, a double decker set with lots of doors and rooms. While there is not as much door slamming as one is used to in a farce, Knuth manages to keep the action flowing.

Of course, true to the farce, all ends well and to cap off the evening, the show closes with a rendition of “Macho Man” as the actors take their bows, followed by  YMCA as done by the ensemble dressed as “the Village People” and this the audience leaves on a rather high note which is what live theater of this type is meant to do. Hats off toCircle Theatre for spreading its wings and soaring to new levels.

The ensemble actors are strong and filled with great energy;Nyk Sutter, Alexander Sharon, Rusty Koenig,David Krajecki ,Thomas Lalonde, Richard O’Dette,Gregory L. PayneBillie Bryant, Sean Driscoll,nancy Greco,Sean-Edward Hall and Jake Autizen-Bravo! You can cathch “The Ritz” through April 1st with performances as follows:

Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Tickets are$24-$28 with a student discount on Saturday and Sunday for seniors and students. There are great sight-lines at Circle and since they have added body mikes, they are now clearly heard anywhere in the intimate theater located at 101 West Madison Street ( just East of Harlem Avenue) in easy to get to Oak Park. There is plenty of street parking and a few good places to east right in the area.

To order your tickets call 708-660-9540 or visit www.circletheatre.org

 

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