We'll do the best we know.
We'll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow.
--from Candide, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Richard Wilbur
Playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell doesn't sugar coat the differences that 50 years make in attitudes toward gay men in his drama, The Pride. And, Diversionary Theatre's production is a character study that steadfastly refuses to judge its characters.
Set in London and alternating between 1958 and 2008, The Pride explores interrelationships among two men and a woman. The three characters share the same namesPhillip (Francis Gercke), Sylvia (Jessica John) and Oliver (Brian Mackey)as well as a bit of their relational dynamics, but essentially these are separate stories told side by side in alternating fashion.
In 1958, Phillip is married to Sylvia. Phillip unhappily sells real estate, while Sylvia is a successful writer who specializes in children's books. Oliver is an editor who has contracted with Sylvia to publish her next book. In 2008, Phillip and Oliver are estranged boyfriends, while Sylvia is a friend to each of them.
Of course, the characters in each era have their secrets, but how those secrets are expressed varies from one time to the other. In 1958, homosexuality was against the law in Britain, and men who were attracted to other men were expected to go to any lengths to cure themselves of their deviant illness. By 2008, deviancy and illness have given way to openness about same-sex attraction, but not necessarily openness about sexuality. The 2008 Oliver, for example, professes to love Phillip, but he also can't seem to stop having anonymous sexual encounters with other men.
Mr. Campbell presents the brutish nature of forced man-on-man sex and the Clockwork Orange-like horrors of 1958 conversion therapy in a matter-of-fact way. And he does not judge the 2008 Oliver's sexual behavior, other than to illustrate how it impacts the relationships Oliver has with both Phillip and Sylvia.
Despite a much more accepting social climate, Mr. Campbell does not idealize 2008 as a Candide-like "the best of all possible worlds" for gay men and their friends. Where he does moralize to a degree comes when both Olivers proclaim that they are searching for pride in themselves, for the ability to live openly being who they are and for the ability to be accepted by others. Clearly, 2008 has an advantage over 1958 on this point, but the play illustrates how that ability remains compromised, even after 50 years of progress.
Director Glenn Paris has brought along mostly actors with whom he has worked previously at his home base, ion Theatre (Dangerfield G. Moore rounds out the cast, playing a series of small roles and making each distinctive from the others). Under his watchful eye, the details of the performances are palpable despite the play's leisurely pace. The quality of the acting is by itself enough to recommend this production.
The creative team consists mostly of Diversionary regulars. Matt Scott designed two attractive and functional sets, one for each act (and property master David Medina found just the right furniture for act one). Michelle Caron's lighting set the right mood throughout, and Trista Roland's costumes helped to differentiate the time periods. Omar Ramos provided original music that proved to be crucial in Mr. Paris' beautifully staged transitions from one scene to the next.
The Pride probably won't appeal to people who like their theatre to resemble television, where short bursts of action and drama prevail and key plot points are hammered home. But patience and a willingness to sort through the parallel story-lines will yield a most satisfying evening's entertainment.
Performances run through May 6, 2012, at Diversionary Theatre 4545 Park Blvd. San Diego California 92116. Ticket prices are $31-$33 and are available by calling 619.220.0097 or by visiting www.diversionary.org/.
Diversionary Theatre presents The Pride, by Alexi Kaye Campbell. Directed by Glenn Paris with Matt Scott (scenic), Michelle Caron (lighting), David Medina (props), Omar Ramos (Sound) and Trista Roland (costumes).
The cast includes Francis Gercke (Philip), Jessica John (Sylvia), Brian Mackey (Oliver), and Dangerfield G. Moore (Doctor, Man, Peter).
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