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THEATER REVIEW: Diversionary's “The Pride” suffers from plot problems

In the time-shifting “The Pride,” British playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell presents a trio of people struggling with identity issues, marital problems and betrayal in the context of gay advancement. The intent seems to be to show societal and personal changes for gays between 1958 and 2008.

“The Pride,” Campbell’s first play, won several British awards, two for best new play and an Olivier for outstanding achievement in an affiliate theater.

Ion Theatre’s Glenn Paris directs Francis Gercke, Jessica John and Brian Mackey – as the main characters named Philip, Sylvia and Oliver, respectively – in 1958 and again in 2008. But though the names are the same, the characters are different in both years. Dangerfield G. Moore plays several smaller roles.

Got it?

In 1958, Philip (Gercke) is an uptight real estate broker without a sense of humor married to Sylvia (John), a ’50s-style desperate housewife who knows the marriage is in trouble but isn’t sure why. She is a former actress, now a children’s book illustrator, working for children’s book writer Oliver (Mackey).

In 2008, Philip and Oliver (one is a photographer, the other a journalist) are lovers recently split because of Oliver’s promiscuity. Oliver wants Philip back. Oliver’s best friend, actress Sylvia, is caught in the middle.

The opening scene (set in 1958) is fairly strong. Sylvia has invited Oliver to meet Philip, unaware of an affair that so horrified Philip that he has undergone a gruesome intervention procedure to rid himself of “the gay.” But the sparks are still there on both sides, covered as well as both can manage.

A few other scenes are good as well, notably one in which a magazine editor in 2008 (Moore) hires Oliver to write a story about gay sex in public (“gay sex for the straight man”), then gets so choked up telling a very human story about his gay uncle’s solitary death that we almost believe this is a good script.

Almost. But when historical changes are foretold by the 1958 Oliver describing an “epiphany” at Delphi, in which a voice told him “everything will be all right,” we have to wonder.

Gercke has a thankless task portraying the Philips: Both are so priggish, self-righteous and cynical that it’s difficult to imagine them as desirable love partners for either gender.

Mackey’s Olivers at least get the funny lines, and though he is stuck with a stereotype (the promiscuous gay), he is at least amusing – and downright poignant when he tells Philip 1958 that “it was the first time, when we were embracing, that I felt I had a pride. A pride for the person I was.”

It’s John’s Sylvia who gets the short end of both sticks, having to sort out the guys in both eras. She’s up to the task, and always a joy to watch.

Paris, who is blessed with some of the best local actors, directs this play as well as one could; I only wish he’d had better material to work with.

Oliver 2008 has a promising line that I wish had been better illustrated by the script: “I kind of feel that the only thing that matters is finding some meaning, some reason, something you can slap the face of brevity (of life) with. And say I was here.”

Now there’s a topic for a play.

The details

“The Pride” plays through May 6 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd.

Thursday through Saturday and May 30 at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call (619) 220-0097 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.