The Pride -- Theater Review

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NEW YORK -- Alexi Kaye Campbell's drama about gay identity through the decades doesn't make any particularly original points, but it handles its familiar subject matter with uncommon intelligence and complexity. Depicting two troubled relationships -- the first in 1958 and the second in the present day -- "The Pride," which appeared at London's Royal Court, is receiving a beautifully acted production at off-Broadway's Primary Stages.

Expertly staged by Joe Mantello ("Wicked"), the evening benefits immeasurably from the performances of its British leading men, Hugh Dancy and Ben Whishaw. Philip (Dancy), Oliver (Ben Whishaw) and Sylvia (Andrea Risenborough) are embroiled in a sort of time-traveling love triangle that reflects the shifting mores of their times. In the scenes set in the 1950s, Philip is an upper-crust estate agent married to illustrator Sylvia, who one evening brings home aspiring novelist Oliver for dinner. Although Philip none too subtly makes evident his revulsion toward people of a certain "manner," it soon becomes clear that Oliver has inspired feelings in him that can't be denied. The two are soon embroiled in a passionate affair that produces the inevitable devastating results.

Meanwhile, in the present day, Philip and Oliver are an estranged couple, with the former having walked out of the relationship after enduring a series of betrayals by the anonymous-sex-addicted Oliver. An illustration of their problems is the amusing scene in which Philip walks in on Oliver and his paid companion, who is dressed in a Nazi uniform and wielding a riding crop.

Although the playwright handles his imaginative conceit in compelling fashion, the drama's actual substance is less impressive. The scenes in 1958 are inevitably more interesting, reflecting the societal tensions of the era. This is particularly true in the play's single most compelling scene, in which a doctor provides Philip with an explicit description of the harrowing aversion therapy he has signed on for in a desperate attempt to rid himself of his desires.

On the other hand, the contemporary segments, though containing amusing moments, are less interesting, with the modern-day Philip barely registering as a character.

Whishaw is absolutely brilliant in his dual portrayals, employing precise body language to at times emotionally devastating effect. The comparatively underplaying Dancy also is highly effective, well conveying Philip's inner turmoil over his true nature.

Scoring in supporting roles are Risenborough, particularly in the powerful scene in which Sylvia confronts Oliver about his relationship with her husband, and Adam James in various parts, including the aforementioned hustler and a magazine editor looking for a piece on "the whole gay thing."

Venue: Lucille Lortel Theatre, New York (Through March 20)
Cast: Hugh Dancy, Ben Whishaw, Andrea Riseborough, Adam James
Playwright: Alexi Kaye Campbell
Director: Joe Mantello
Set designer: David Zinn
Costume designer: Mattie Ullrich
Lighting designer: Paul Gallo
Original music: Justin Ellington
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