The old saw goes “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.” That could be the underlying message to the gay rights movement encapsulated in the intriguing drama, “The Pride,” currently running on the Richmond Triangle Players stage.
In a series of clever, time-jumping scenes, we watch the relationship between Oliver (Stevie Rice) and Philip (Nicholas Aliff) play out in a repressed 1958 London and, alternately, in a more permissive 2008 version of the city. If you think it’s easier being out-and-proud, you’d be wrong.
The Oliver of the 1950s is an author who hires Sylvia (Stacie Reardon Hall) to illustrate his latest children’s book and, in the process, meets her husband Philip. From their first meeting, the sexual tension between the men is palpable as is Philip’s shame and self-loathing, which will burst forth later in the play in a disturbing act of passion. The 21st century Oliver is a journalist who can’t stop fellating strangers, an impulsiveness that has finally pushed away his devoted boyfriend, Philip.
Oliver’s best friend, Sylvia, amusingly tries to break him of his habit while brokering a rapprochement between the two lovers. Director Jason Campbell and his cast do a commendable job in keeping the two time periods distinct but related and in keeping the characters consistent but era-appropriate. They get a significant assist from customer designer Thomas Hammond who evokes the 50s with elegant evening ware and the contemporary world with appropriate casualness.
As the two Olivers, Rice gets the most opportunities to show his range as an actor and takes great advantage of them. While his early-era Oliver takes halting steps toward self-acceptance, the contemporary version is extravagantly self-accepting, almost to a fault. Both are desperate in their love for Philip. Unfortunately, Aliff is saddled with being somewhat of a prig in both time periods. It would have been helpful if the play offered more than a glimpse of the warmth or empathy in Philip that attracts Oliver to him.
Though relegated to playing the woman stuck in the middle, Hall shines as the two Sylvias. She is noble and sad as the wife saddled with a closeted husband, playful and supportive as the modern-day best friend. Evan Nasteff rounds out the cast playing several different flamboyant characters, the most impressive one being a manic magazine editor who assigns contemporary Philip a piece on “gay sex for the straight man.” Nasteff finds a moment of true emotion in the midst of a rambling rampage of insensitivity.
The action plays out on a functional two-level set, simply furnished with a couch and two chairs by designer T. Ross Aitken. Lighting designer David White provides effective main stage lighting while washing the back panel of the set with bright colors. Special mention should be made of dialect coach Susan Schuld who tutored the cast in the subtle differences between today’s British and that of 50 years ago, another feature the cast uses to distinguish the time periods.
While the contemporary story of impulsive sexuality offers new perspectives on the challenges facing gay men, it doesn’t match the intensity of the mid-century story. The situation is not as original, but there is more at stake in the 1950s story. Throughout the play, small inferences are made about the characters being cognizant of the other time period, inferences that might have been more interesting if they had been made bigger. Still, taken together, the two halves of this drama make for one very satisfying whole.“The Pride” runs Thursday through Saturday evening with Sunday matinees at Richmond Triangle Players Theater, 1300 Altamont Stree through April 27tht. Call 346-8113 or go to www.rtriangle.org for details.