Like a black and white movie, the monochromatic set and costumes in shades of grey are the perfect accompaniment to Aleki Kaye Campbell’s play, "The Pride," which vacillates between the 1958 and 2008. The visual metaphor works on a couple of levels. First, it emphasizes the very black and white attitudes prevalent in the late fifties and early sixties regarding homosexuality as explored in films like "A Single Man" with Colin Firth.
Additionally, there is the contrast to 2008, in which actors are seen in brightly colored costumes, a lime dress or a day-glow orange shirt, for example. The now iconic rainbow flag, representing not only gay Pride, but the changes in attitudes toward same-sex couples, is cleverly represented by a cloth belt worn around the waist of a heterosexual woman at a yearly Pride event.
Director Andy Rogow’s seamless transitional devices between the two periods are also clever. The play and its characters move liquidly back and forth from each decade, telling two stories in juxtaposition to one another. Rogow uses simple, yet genius, methods to indicate the change in time period.
Right before one actor exits in a scene, another enters and simultaneously mirrors his actions. They may both be looking out the window or taking a sip from their drinks. Rogow also uses an old Underwood typewriter in 1958 replaced by a computer in 2008 to indicate the change in decades. These are the touches that make "The Pride" work.
The set, by Sean Mclain, is a post-modern living room with furniture that works for both periods. The feel is like an Ikea showroom display, complete with a mirrored sunburst decoration on the wall and sleek drapes. There are recesses on the speckled walls as well.
Peter Lovello’s costumes are dead on. The proper Englishman’s suit, the ethereal white negligee, the trench coats, the argyle sweater and even the Nazi uniform all work to flesh out the personalities of the various characters. Care and attention here is evident and welcome. With the exception of a beautiful dress wore at the top of the show, which is a size too big, all the costumes are fitted well.
Although these are picayune criticisms, there are some small attentions to detail that are lacking. The woman in the fifties scenes sports a modern zig-zag part in her hair instead of the ’straight’ part of the period. She also does not wear the classic red lipstick favored in the fifties and is sans hat in some scenes as well.
The play has a lot to say; perhaps too much to take in in one sitting. Subjects include: self-loathing, betrayal, political correctness, monogamy, casual sex, sexual addiction, salvation, shame, honesty, self-acceptance, rape, behavior modification therapy and friendship. There is a lot of dialogue. Some of it intended simply to expose the author’s point of view on these subjects.
For example, the scene in the magazine publisher’s office, well played by a very funny and moving Sean Dorazio, only serves to make the point that many straight people justify themselves by saying, "Some of my best friends are gay," by citing their ubiquitous homosexual uncle as an example. This scene also examines the use of politically correct terms. Is it ok to use the word ’queer?’ Think of the recent controversy with Ru Paul’s references to ’she-males’ as a parallel.
There is also a long passage about traveling in Greece that really doesn’t have any pay off, except as small talk. These ruminations drag the pace down in these scenes, forcing you look at your watch. The ending monologue is delivered beautifully but is also not necessary. A bit of cutting would have been beneficial as the show runs one and a half hours in the first act and an hour in the second.
The acting is uniformly strong. The three main characters are in a love triangle reminiscent of the characters in Harold Pinter’s play "Betrayal." As Sylvia, Faiza Cherie -- a beautiful red-headed Portia DeRossi lookalike -- is very moving in the scene at a park where she reveals her knowledge of the affair between her husband, Philip, and her employer, Oliver. She also plays Oliver’s best friend, a la Grace Adler of "Will and Grace" fame, with conviction.
For his part, Michael McKeever as Oliver again delivers a fine performance as both an author of children’s books in the 1950’s and a sex addict and journalistic bel-esprit in 2008. McKeever nails the rape scene in which he comes to realize his lover is not capable of making the real human connection Oliver is seeking from the relationship.
His response, after the brutal sexual assault, to the attacker’s statement that Oliver does not know him is a plaintive, "You’re right, I don’t know you." It encapsulates the play’s theme precisely. He is as convincing in the present day scenes where he repeatedly succumbs to his sexual addiction by having random sex in the park.
Bruce Linser must also flip characterizations between decades. In one he is a self-loathing beast and the other a gentle man seeking monogamy. His depression is real and his disappointment apparent. In one scene he uses the pillow as a barrier between him and his former lover; this action of self-protection reads well.
His accent, unlike the rest of the cast, is consistent. The others drop in and out on words like: been, library, Shaftsbury, whatever, again, and ninety-five. Was there any real reason to keep the accents in the first place? Except for occasional references to English phrases like ’gross indecency,’ the play could have been set in NYC, as well as London. (The London backdrop, including Big Ben, was really stunning and well lit by lighting designer Eric J. Cantrell.)
"The Pride" is a terrific production overall and well worth the time. It again proves that Island City Stage delivers a quality product as it did in the recent "Have I Got a Girl for You" and last year’s Carbonell-winning "Timekeepers." Astute direction, fine production values and terrific acting make it worth the trip to see "The Pride" at Empire Stage.
"The Pride" runs through June 22 and is presented by Island City Stage at the Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive, Fort Lauderdale. For tickets or information, call 954-519-2533 or visit islandcitystage.org