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Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012

Off the Wall Juggles Fast-Paced 'Ritz'

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Dale Gutzman's Off the Wall Theatre has produced a wide array of plays over the years. Some of its best work has been in the realm of comedy, the direction it heads at summer's end for Terrence McNally's The Ritz.

The 1970s farce stars Larry Lukasavage as a man who hides in a gay bathhouse in New York while on the run from the Mafia. A wild cast of characters inhabits the bathhouse, and Gutzman keeps the action accordingly crazy throughout much of the play's two hours. The energy and mood falter in places, but it isn't long before the momentum rights itself.

The action moves so fast that you don't have a chance to focus on one actor's performance for too long. Still, a few performances stood out. Karl Miller was compelling as a man who appeared to reside permanently in the bathhouse. There's a jovial kind of loneliness about the man that makes him more complicated than many of the other characters.

Kristin Pagenkopf also makes a notable appearance, as a bathhouse singer who dreams of becoming a diva even though she clearly lacks the necessary talent. In the role of the man on the run, Lukasavage creates real substance. His sense of desperation worked both as comedy and serious drama. The character is a very likable man at the center of forces beyond his control.

Off the Wall Theatre's production of The Ritz runs through Aug. 5. For ticket reservations, call 414-327-3552.

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