Ritual, Chicago Theatre Company. Stanley Bennet-Clay’s 1990 play puts an added twist on the familiar rant of the “I hate my materialistic middle-class family” school of drama, born during the beat generation. The unhappily affluent family this time is black–but still steeped in frustration, compromise, and self-loathing. The characters are not much different from their 1950s counterparts: a neglectful father isolated from his children by a high-pressure job, a castrating mother sedated by alcohol, a nymphet daughter with an Electra complex, and a wise, articulate, compassionate college-dropout son who’s also gay–a trait that apparently frees him from the corruption infecting his kin. He returns home to liberate his loved ones from their puritanical sexual repression, the root of all evil.
Director Douglas Alan-Mann and his cast strive mightily to put a professional veneer on this drivel, the actors valiantly swapping repartee as they adopt the artificial postures and mannered delivery more often associated with camp satire–an interpretation rendered all too likely by Bennett-Clay’s juvenile text. Patrick Kerwin’s sleek decor and Karen L. Wells’s chic costumes (one dress received a round of applause on the night I attended) are supposed to keep us entertained for the 80 minutes leading up to the Euripidean climax, which is completely unsuited to the brittle drawing-room comedy that’s gone before.
–Mary Shen Barnidge