What an impressive beginning. First time playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell has actually written two plays – examining the male gay experience – and quite cleverly interwoven them into one which he has titled – “The Pride” which is enjoying a very healthy run at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
His use of three characters set in London 1958 and 2008 works beautifully in telling the stories of Oliver (Ben Whishaw) and Philip (Hugh Dancy) and the woman in their lives – Sylvia (Andrea Riseborough).
They really aren’t the same three characters per se. They are six distinct people who have the same names for each story. The characters they portray are very different in their manner of thinking and in their actions. All this is made perfectly clear by the inventive and fluid direction of Joe Mantello. With the changing of costumes that ring true for each period and having his actors transition themselves in and out of the shadows of the past and present scenes in front of darkened reflective mirrors he achieves an eeriness that is both intriguing and compelling. The acting from all is extraordinarily good.
The first act is what I would call semi brilliant. Focusing on the actions in 1958 where an uptight and in the closet Philip is married to prone to sleepless nights Sylvia who is working for the chain smoking writer of children’s books Oliver, we see how difficult it was for a gay man to admit to and live with his burden. Philip tries very hard not to give in to his gayness while Olivier freely admits his love for him. While Sylvia is away they meet and it sadly turns into an act of sexual violence.
We then meet the semi naked, completely openly gay Oliver of 2008 where he is role playing with a Man (Adam James) whom he has found on the internet and is paying for anonymous sex which he is prone to do, much to the chagrin of his boyfriend Philip who despite their love for each other has to call it quits over Oliver’s bad boy activities. Sylvia here is the fag hag friend of the chain smoking, lonely and needy Oliver. What troubled me most about their contemporary scenes is that even though he behaves promiscuously there is never any mention of the possibility of contracting any kind of disease as if it just didn’t exist.
The Act I living room set by David Zinn has to work for both periods. It is better suited for the contemporary scenes. Only the costumes by Mattie Ullrich work well for both periods. But I’m nit picking. The play is clever and thoughtful, well structured and enormously funny and powerful.
Act II is an open stage with some movable benches that must represent an office where magazine editor Peter (Adam James) is interviewing journalist Oliver for a freelance gay “keep it light” story he is to write about anonymous sex; a park where Sylvia meets with the Oliver of the past in a beautiful scene where she confronts him with the truth with the use, I’m afraid, of a gimmicky plot point or prop I should say (sitting in the rear of the orchestra I did miss some of her more quiet moments) – and the meeting room where a downtrodden Philip of the past goes to visit a Doctor (again an excellent Adam James) to cure himself of his gay tendencies with an horrific anti-gay therapy which leaves nothing to the imagination.
In “The Pride” in both past and present, the gay men aren’t happy. Whether grappling with feelings they do not want to admit to or being free and open enough to do so they are deeply troubled. Each era has its own set of depressing problems here. Is that all there is to being gay? www.mcctheater.org
Photo: Joan Marcus