Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
It is London, 1958, and children's book illustrator Sylvia (Amy Bistok) introduces her unhappy realtor husband Philip (Brian Westerley) to her gay writing partner Oliver (David Munnell). Philip hates his forced inherited life of showing empty houses and flats, and dreams of travel, especially to Africa. He is also a closeted gay.
The two men find an attraction to each other and their short-lived affair begins. In England at that time, homosexuality is against the law and punishable by prison with hard labor, chemical castration, or conversion therapy. Gay men must use extreme care in forming liaisons lest they be outed and punished to the extreme.
Switch to London, 2008, it is an altogether different story. Oliver is a freelance writer of note whose lover Philip has left him due to his partner's propensity to perform oral sex on total strangers. Sylvia is Oliver's straight friend and muse who is on the cusp of becoming engaged to Mario.
Even though being gay is now more acceptable, very little has changed as far as emotional turmoil in relationships. Philip returns to the flat to grab the last of his possessions only to find Oliver engaging in kinky roleplaying with a man (Beau Reinker) dressed as a Nazi. The time periods then evenly alternate, taking the audience to the conclusion of each scenario.
David Munnell does a fine job as Oliver, playing the 1958 "scared gay" to a T, while switching in an instant to the flamboyant out man of 2008. Brian Westerley is also very capable as Philip, who wears his 1958 guilt on his sleeve (later resorting to drastic measures) and is the spurned lover in 2008. The glue that holds things together is Amy Bistok as Philip's wife (1958) and Oliver's straight friend (2008). She is the non-judgmental shred of common sense needed to steer these men to their awaiting destinies, in 1958 as the patient wife waiting for her husband's return to monogamy and in 2008 when she reunites the two former lovers during a pride celebration (hence the title of the play). Beau Reinker plays, in order, a fantasy Nazi, a "hip" magazine publisher Peter who hopes to cash in on "the gay craze," and the doctor guiding Philip through his therapy sessions. He performs admirably in each role.
This is explicit, hard-hitting theater that unashamedly covers a myriad of themes, including the historical treatment of gays, closet gays married to women, love vs sex, fetishes, conversion therapy, modern promiscuity, self loathing, homosexual rape, and the ever popular debate of being born or being turned gay.
This is a show that requires rapt attention to all the nuances of speech as well as a very liberal and accepting attitude about homosexuality. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is an enthralling piece of theater for those with the courage to view it.
The Pride, through April 20, 2019, at Convergence-Continuum, Liminis Theater, 2438 Scranton Road, Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased online at www.convergence-continuum.org or by calling 216-687-0074.