nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 14, 2010
The Pride, a first play by Alexi Kaye Campbell that has been imported to the U.S. from London by MCC Theater, tells two linked stories. The stories happen some 50 years apart—one is contemporary, and one takes place in the 1950s—and involve three characters who share the same names and similar triangular relationships.
In the '50s section, which starts the play, Philip and Sylvia are a married couple (he sells property, she's an actress-turned-illustrator). Sylvia is currently working for Oliver, a children's book author, and when she invites Oliver to meet her husband, everyone's life changes. Four months later, Philip is desperate to end the affair he has been having with Oliver; he cannot come to terms with himself as a homosexual and eventually seeks drastic assistance to "cure" himself of his "perversion."
The modern-day portion of The Pride begins with Philip leaving his boyfriend Oliver, after a year and a half together and not for the first time, because he is unhappy that Oliver continually seeks out anonymous sex with strangers despite their supposed loving relationship. Sylvia is Oliver's best friend (Campbell never calls her a "fag hag" but that's what she is, I'm afraid). The arc of this story is Oliver's attempt to "cure" himself of his "perversion" and perhaps successfully attain monogamy, perhaps with Philip.
Either of these two stories is probably worth telling. (I would be interested particularly in seeing a well-considered drama about a married gay man in denial about his sexuality and the pain this causes everyone in his private life; one need only recall the recent public outing of Governor McGreevey to realize how sadly topical such a drama could be.)
Campbell chooses to focus here, though, on the overlapping broad themes of these two tales, perhaps to show a progression (if that's the right word) in gay relationships and options over time: each of the two pairings seems to want what they can't have (the first Oliver wants a loving relationship but Philip can't conceive of having one with a man; the second Oliver wants an open relationship but Philip doesn't want to forgo monogamy).
What I found most puzzling about the play is its lack of heat: neither of the couples is actually shown to us while in love, but rather before or after—we have to take them at their word that there's real emotional or sexual connection between either of the Olivers and Philips. The chasteness of both relationships belies the play's publicity campaign (it's described as an "erotic time warp" on MCC's website, but the most overt show of affection between men in The Pride is a pat on the leg). I didn't find much to like in the male characters in this play, nor did I ever believe in their alleged love for one another, in either decade.
On the other hand, Sylvia is a fine and admirable character in both of her manifestations. She has the best scene in the drama when she meets up with Oliver (in the '50s section) after discovering what's happened between him and her husband. Andrea Riseborough is strong and sympathetic as both Sylvias, while Ben Whishaw is alternately fey and sullen as the Olivers and Hugh Dancy, compelling as the '50s Philip, barely registers as the underwritten 21st century model. Adam James is stuck playing two entirely unconvincing characters, including a man whom Oliver pays to dress up as a Nazi and the obligatory smug and arrogant straight male asshole who is revealed to have a heart of gold. (James's third character, a doctor, is well played indeed.)
Joe Mantello's direction, on a sparse set by David Zinn, is possibly confusing; my companion didn't realize that the time periods were as dispersed as they are. (A program note would certainly help.) Attitudes toward the two eras feel kind of simple-minded: the main difference between the '50s and the 2000s seems to be that in the earlier period people were unfailingly polite to each other and dressed formally even for bed, while in the latter period everybody says "fuck" all the time and generally walks around looking like a slob. I was hoping for deeper insight from Campbell and his collaborators.