In a theatrical world where revivals and remakes are increasingly common, it’s refreshing to see a piece of theatre that is entirely original, and About Face Theatre’s production of The Pride by Alexi Kaye Campbell is just that. Featuring a small but talented cast and strong direction, The Pride delves deep into the history of LGBTQ life and takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster from laughter to tears and back again.
Set in London, The Pride shifts in time between 1958 and 2008 in each scene. Initially, these transitions are marked by obvious changes in the set (designed by Williams Boles) and costumes (designed by Mieka van der Ploeg), but as the show progresses, the audience grows used to the pattern of one scene set in the past followed by another set in the modern day. Director Bonnie Metzgar made some bold movement choices that helped set the tone for each scene before it happened, although onstage costume changes, while clearly aiming for some symbolic ideal, felt more like a watered-down Brechtian approach than truly metaphorically resonant.
In 1958, Philip (John Francisco) is married to Sylvia (Jessie Fisher) but is startled by his own feelings of attraction to the author whose children’s book she is illustrating, Oliver (Patrick Andrews). Oliver and Philip conduct an illicit and highly taboo affair, and while Oliver begins to question society’s belief that homosexuality is wrong and predicts a future in which there may be more tolerance, Philip clings to his traditional views and tries to force Oliver out of his life. In an intense scene just before intermission, a tender embrace between the two rapidly transforms into rape, and while the actors portrayed the scene bravely and with great emotional truth, this portion of the script seemed a bit heavy-handed and out of sync with the rest of the story.
In 2008, Philip has just broken up with Oliver due to Oliver’s addiction to public, anonymous sex. The modern-day Sylvia, just as sharp-eyed and compassionate as her 1958 counterpart, cracks jokes and helps Oliver cope with his heartbreak while starting a relationship of her own. In a surprising scene, a Nazi verbally abusing a young man turns out to be a role-playing prostitute hired by Oliver out of boredom, and what initially seemed quite serious becomes humorous when Philip arrives to find Oliver and the “Nazi” having a drink. Benjamin Springer, who played the prostitute, Peter, and the doctor in turn, gave a delightful performance in each of his roles, making clear acting choices that signaled each change in character.
In Act Two, the audience is treated to more comedy and more heartbreak. The modern-day Oliver makes money writing a confessional about gay public sex for a magazine, while 1958 Oliver and Sylvia share a powerful scene in which she reveals that she knows about his and Philip’s affair and while she is upset, she does not blame them for it. Jessie Fisher shines in this scene, portraying Sylvia’s mixed emotions in a convincing and heartfelt way. 1958 Philip seeks aversion treatment for his homosexuality in another heartbreaking scene, but the play ends on a lighthearted and hopeful note as Philip and Oliver of 2008 reconcile at a gay pride parade.
Featuring strong acting, visually interesting design, and excellent use of an intimate space, About Face Theatre’s production of this thought-provoking and provocative show is worth the ticket price for adults of all orientations.
Running Time: Two hours, fifteen minutes, with a fifteen-minute intermission
Dates: The regular run is scheduled through July 13, but a special two-week extension has been added! Shows are Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 5 pm & 9 pm; Sundays at 5 pm.
Location: Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theatre, 24233 N. Lincoln Avenue, in Chicago.
Tickets: $30, $15 students. Group rates available. Tickets for The Pride are available at www.aboutfacetheatre.com or by calling the Victory Gardens box office at (773) 871-3000.