Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Theater Review: The Pride

Posted by David

This past Saturday I attended a performance of The Pride, a new play by Alexi Kaye Campbell directed by Joe Mantello, and part of the Manhattan Class Company's (MCC) current season. The production features Ben Wishaw, Hugh Dancy, Andrea Riseborough and Adam James.

Update: This play has been extended through March 28th.

The play chronicles two parallel romantic triangles - one taking place in 1958, the other in 2008, both in London.  In both story lines, the characters are Oliver (Wishaw), Philip (Dancy) and Sylvia (Riseborough).  Oliver and Philip are gay and Sylvia is straight.  At this point, the similarities end.

In 1958, Philip and Sylvia are married and Oliver is a young writer who has contracted Sylvia to illustrate his newest children's novel.  He is invited to their home so they can all meet.

In 2008, Philip has just walked out on Oliver because of his incessant promiscuous activities.  Sylvia is Oliver's best gal pal.

Alternating seamlessly between the decades, the story illuminates two separate forms of denial, both of which boil down to an individual's ability to accept and embrace his identity.  One of the men succumbs to the denial while the other begins to come to terms with it.  What is especially pleasing is that the play flips which character is in denial in each storyline.  This allows the actors great latitude in drawing both parallels and differences between their two incarnations.

Thankfully, the woman in both these story lines is not just a prop.  Both Sylvias serve as catalysts, yes, but they also have their own journeys as they struggle to create lives that are not tethered to men who use them as props or shields.

All the performers are top-notch and the actors create distinctly different and fully-fleshed characters for each story line.  Kudos also go to Mr. James who covers various characters throughout.  His smarmy magazine editor, who offers a brief glimpse of a sensitive heart, was particularly brilliant.

Joe Mantello continues to not disappoint as a top-notch director with this taut production.  In partnership with his design team, he has created a moody and muted atmosphere through minimal yet effective sets (David Zinn), lighting (Paul Gallo), costumes (Mattie Ullrich), original music (Justin Ellington) and sound (Jill DuBoff).  He keeps the pacing tight but never rushed, allowing tensions to build and revelations to unfold without the action ever sagging.

It is hard to believe that this is Alexi Kaye Campbell's first play.  The dialogue is effortless and honest, the characters fully drawn and the payoff at the conclusion is thoroughly satisfying without being gratuitous or trite.  It is no surprise that this work won an Olivier Award when it premiered in London.last season.

The "Pride" of the title alludes in some ways to Gay Pride, but what it really informs is the journey to find pride in oneself, as oneself, that is the crucial center of any person's identity.  It is the ability to look in the mirror and really see what is there and embrace it.  The Pride is about owning your own soul.

The production runs through March 20 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.  See it!

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