Ooh, a good one.
Alexi Kaye Campbell‘s taut The Pride (Pillsbury House Theatre, through Oct 16) is a modestly scaled play on a huge subject: the nature of sexuality. Campbell creates three main characters, Oliver, Phillip and Sylvia and then fashions two stories, one set in 1958 and the other 50 years later, using, essentially, the same 3 characters. In each, Oliver plays a passionate gay man and Phillip the object of his deeply felt ardor. Sylvia enacts a choric function. As Phillip’s wife in 1958 and as Oliver’s friend in 2008, she offers support and insight then steps away, reluctantly – but articulately. A gorgeous character.
Beyond this I am reluctant to reveal any of the plot. The play depends for its effectiveness on surprise and sudden revelation (and there is plenty). To describe this is, I fear, to ruin it all for you. Still, I can confidently say that Campbell’s back-and-forth structural motif really works. We are invited to make vivid connections: the repressed fifties vs. the go-go oughts; an era when homosexuality was a source of shame and anguish vs. the present when gay sexuality is (putatively) celebrated. How have things changed? Have they changed? Campbell asks these questions without providing impossibly easy answers. Lovely.
Clarence Wethern‘s Oliver is sweet and polite, but with barely contained sexual fire. He has a scary presence, subtle and affecting. “I just want to live an honest life,” he says, and we really feel it. Wethern has been knocking amiably around the twin cities theater scene for a few years now and it is a great pleasure to see him come so beautifully into his own. I hope we will see him again soon, in something equally challenging.
As Phillip, Matt Guidry is a marvel. In both plays he is torn, both attracted to and frightened by Oliver’s keen fervor. We feel his agony vividly. As Sylvia, Tracey Maloney gives a wonderful performance. I was especially taken by her 1958 Sylvia. At the end, she… Well, I promised I wouldn’t tell you the story. The expressive Paul de Cordova plays three characters with true comic brilliance. This is a beautifully acted play; you would be hard-pressed to find better.
Great praise is due director Noel Raymond for keeping things moving tautly and for providing a nifty transitional device, easing us from one era to the other. The designers – Joe Stanley (sets), Michael Wangen (lights), C. Andrew Mayer (sound) and Clare Brauch (costumes) – work wonders with a small budget and the jewel-like Pillsbury House stage.
I am obligated to mention that The Pride has an incident of “graphic sexuality” (as the Pillsbury House PR material says). I won’t tell you the specifics, but it is harrowing – and quite necessary to the story. Don’t let it scare you off. This is a terrific play.
For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.