'The Pride' misses mark while exploring two eras of gay life


There's nothing wrong at all with the ideas behind or the execution of The Pride at the Pillsbury House Theatre, I just wish that I felt a stronger connection to the characters, be it in the confinement of their 1950s reality, or in a different way, the confines of modern day.

In Alexi Kaye Campbell's award-winning play, a pair of lovers -- Oliver and Philip -- is seen through two different lenses. In one, it is 1958 London. The couple's attraction is forbidden by society, and is driven even deeper underground by one of the character's marriage. Here, our focus is on Philip, whose marriage and job don't provide much satisfaction, but his passions for Oliver don't provide much comfort either. That could be due to Philip's own society-mandated revulsion at his "condition," but also may come down to his own betrayal of his wife.

In 2008, characters with the same names and some of the same basic characteristics (and most importantly, played by the same actors) tell a different kind of story. Their relationship is no longer driven underground, but you can still feel the relics of that past time in their lives. Here, we focus on Oliver, who has just been left alone after Philip leaves their year-and-a-half-old relationship. The main crux is, again, betrayal. This time, it is Oliver's love of anonymous sex that drives the story.

As both plots unwind, it's clear that the real dramatic tension and emotional weight is coming from 1958. While there are hints that the later-day Oliver may be a bit suicidal, the character's basic self-assurance makes that side more of singular journey, where he does some important growing up. In the past, the actions of each character affect the others, with physical and emotional ramifications.

The actors, Clarence Wethern as Oliver, Matt Guidry as Philip, and Tracey Maloney as Sylvia (wife in the past, confidant in the present time), seem to relish the deeper hearts and added complexity of the past segments as well, with the past versions of their characters seeming to be more fleshed out.  

At times, Campbell's script seems a little too on the nose, underlining issues -- repression, bigotry, the overall gay rights movement -- that are best explored through the characters he has built instead of in off-the-cuff speeches they give. The play's best moments -- a verbal fight that turns increasingly violent in act one; a decision to undertake a dubious "therapy"  (paging Marcus Bachmann) later on -- work because the characters, and in turn the audience, are completely invested in the action. 

The Pride runs through October 16 at the Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis.

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