‘The Pride’ contrasts gay life today and 50 years ago

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

SAN DIEGO —When there is no past to reflect on, the now seems the norm and even the ‘now’ is questionable when equality and ‘pride’ in who we are and whom we choose to be our life partners are still being challenged legally and in the court of public opinion.

Alexi Kaye Campbell takes a look at the then and now of being gay in his first play, The Pride now being given a fine airing at Diversionary Theatre under the deft direction of Glenn Paris, artistic director at ION Theatre in Hillcrest. The story line bounces back and fourth over a period of fifty years from 1958 to 2008.

It gives us glimpse into the challenges, complexities, conquests, attitudes and achievements of two groups of characters that share the same names: Phillip (Francis Gercke), Oliver (Bryan Mackey) and Sylvia (Jessica John). While the names are the same they are different people in different relationship, different time frames and they are British.

In the 1950’s scenario Phillip and Sylvia are a married couple. She is a former actress who gave up her career to marry Phillip. She now works with Oliver. Oliver is a children’s book author and Sylvia does the illustrations. Phillip is in real estate. His staid personality is in direct contrast to her bubbly one. Sylvia feels something is amiss in the marriage, but can’t quite put her finger on it.

When the play opens Phillip and Oliver are about to meet for the first time at Phillip and Sylvia’s. Sylvia is vivacious and can’t stop talking about their first-time encounter. The time is 1958 and the air is heavy with an unspoken energy that gives Sylvia a chill and a premonition of ‘something bad about to happen’. The three go about their small talk as if everything is as it should be.

Unbeknownst to Sylvia, something not quite up to snuff had, in fact already happened. Phillip and Oliver had once had a homosexual relationship. His homosexual feelings had so traumatized Phillip that he underwent therapy to rid him of any gay leanings. When the Doctor (Dangerfield G. Moore plays several characters) describes the therapy, it boggles the imagination but Phillip agrees to it to no avail.

Leaping ahead to 2008, Phillip and Oliver are lovers and Sylvia is Oliver’s best friend. Now Oliver is a journalist and Phillip is a photographer. Their rocky relationship has them in a bind because Oliver plays the field and acts somewhat like a male prostitute and Phillip wants an exclusive relationship. Sylvia is now an actress and Oliver’s ear and confidant. Both time frames play out in five vignettes each but until you get the rhythm of it, it tends to confuse.

The Pride was first shown on at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 2008. Campbell was awarded the Critics Circle Prize for most promising playwright. It was then transferred to America and produced at MCC Theatre in New York in 2010.

Parris has surrounded himself with an outstanding cast that gives this somewhat preachy and longwinded play enough credibility to put it on the list of must see. History has a way of putting things in perspective and this reality check is a fine example of it.

As the repressed and finally liberated gay man; one in a heterosexual and one in a homosexual relationship, Fran Gercke has the difficult task of being the straight as an arrow shooter with less than wonderful charisma who always seems in the underdog role. He does it well, but woe is he.

Mackey, on the other hand, is flamboyant, charming and exciting with stories of travel and experiences even the most traveled of us might envy. And as he has always been open in his homosexuality, and feels much more comfortable in his skin as it shows through again and again. he is more relaxed and it comes across beautifully. Jessica John’s Sylvia, in the middle, is always upbeat but is much more alive as Sylvia the actress than Sylvia the wife and illustrator. Dangerfield G. Moore lends great support throughout.

All the action plays out on Matt Scott’s versatile set with excellent lighting design compliments of Michelle Caron. Trista Roland’s costumes are period appropriate and Omar Ramos’s sound design adds to the overall feel of the play.

John’s Sylvia sums up the transformation of change as she gives her final bittersweet monologue to Phillip as the Sylvia of 1958: “When I next wake it will be to leave. You will still be sleeping. I will kiss you on your forehead and quietly go. I cannot blame you for what you have been. You have been the prisoner of fear… it will be alright, it will be alright, it will be alright.”

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through May 6th

Organization: Diversionary Theatre

Phone: 619-220-0097

Production Type: Drama

Where: 4545 Park Blvd. San Diego, CA 92116

Ticket Prices: $31.00-$33.00

Web: diversionary.org

Davis is a San Diego-based theatre critic.  She may be contacted at [email protected]


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