In just the last decade, we’ve witnessed a momentous shift in public attitudes towards homosexuality and marriage equality. But, opinions were much more steadfast in the decades before, as demonstrated by “The Pride,” Alexi Kaye Campell’s 2008 Olivier Award-winning drama receiving its regional premiere at Island City Stage.
Set in London, “The Pride” focuses on three characters in 1958 and three different characters in 2008, all living in London and sharing the same names.
In 1958, children’s book author Oliver (Michael McKeever) stops by the flat shared by his illustrator, Sylvia (Faiza Cherie), and her husband, Philip (Bruce Linzer), for a quick cocktail before dinner. An almost-unnoticed connection occurs between Oliver and Philip and soon the men are engaged in an emotional affair. While Oliver seeks an authentic existence and an accompanying relationship, Philip cannot reconcile the “perversion” of their acts and pursues horrific chemical aversion therapy.
Fifty years later, Oliver, a magazine journalist, and Philip are two seemingly happy partners whose relationship falls apart because of Oliver’s penchant for anonymous sex in public parks. Sylvia is Oliver’s confidant, a friend who wants to see her friends work out the kinks in an otherwise perfect relationship.
Honestly, there’s nothing terribly original about either storyline. Most of the older gay men in the audience have experienced one or both types of relationships firsthand. But, Campbell’s London setting, punctuated with well-crafted, often witty dialogue (delivered with competent British accents), puts a fresh spin on tired tales. And did I mention that she alternately weaves the stories together, emphasizing the concurrent themes of sexual identity and self-esteem?
This presents a technical challenge for director Andy Rogow, but with the help of costume designer Peter Lovello, and set designer Michael McClain, the adept cast instantly navigate the twists and turns throughout the two-act play. Credit McClain with an especially clever visual cue for the audience: A manual typewriter is flipped over to reveal a laptop whenever the calendar advances to 2008.
McKeever and Cherie both give solid performances in both timeframes, but it is Linser, as the 1950s Philip, who is most moving, his character visibly and painfully struggling with the insurmountable feelings of self-loathing. One of the most unnerving moments comes as Philip meets with the doctor prior to aversion therapy, which involves looking at gay pornography in a locked room before undergoing chemical injections that will induce severe nausea. He asks to bring a picture of Oliver into the room in the hopes of erasing any pleasant memories of their emotional bonds.
Sean Dorazio offers a pleasant distraction from the heady drama in multiple roles, first as a Nazi-uniformed rent boy who comforts the 2008 Oliver after his breakup and later as Philip’s disturbing doctor and Oliver’s cheeky magazine editor.
Cliches aside, the play’s biggest weakness is the length. Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours (with 15 minute intermission) it’s a long show to endure in the seats at Empire Stage. Considering “The Pride” is really two plays in one, with some edits, the sum would still certainly outweigh its parts. That said, it’s still a good reminder why the LGBT community celebrates Pride in June.
“The Pride” by Alexi Kaye Campbell produced by Island City Stage at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. through June 22. Tickets $30 at IslandCityStage.org.