Monday, March 8, 2010

The Pride

Posted by Mondschein

"The Pride" presented by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, February 28, 2010

(photo: Joan Marcus)

The Pride tells two stories of Oliver, Philip and Sylvia, the first set in 1958 London and the second fifty years later.  The play opens in the earlier time when Sylvia (Andrea Riseborough) has invited her boss, Oliver (Ben Whishaw) over for drinks with her husband Philip (Hugh Dancy) before dinner out.  Tension builds quickly as Philip finds himself attracted to the not-so-closeted Oliver.  Jump-shift to 2008 and the triangle has shifted.  Oliver (sharing only the same name as his 1958 counterpart) is not dealing well with his recent break-up with Philip, the two of whom were introduced by mutual friend Sylvia. 

Each character is full of issues in both periods, creating a compelling set of tales.  Overwrought with guilt, 1958 Philip breaks off the brief, if torrid affair with Oliver and longs for "normalcy" in his life, seeking psychiatric help, including aversion therapy to overcome his sexual orientation.  2008 Philip has also broken off the relationship with his Oliver over the latter's compulsion for anonymous sex.  Sylvia stands by in relative support in both eras, ultimately setting 1958 Philip free after coming to terms with her own denial.

The stories aren't exactly parallels, but both spend a little time at the self-hatred table.  1958 Philip can't come to terms with his sexuality, longing to make it go away.  2008 Oliver's version comes in the form of his inability to reconcile his promiscuity.

The performances are fairly even, but it is Mr. Whishaw who has the meatiest roles.  His hopeful hopelessness as 1958 Oliver is tender and touchingly vulnerable.  His inner struggle as 2008 Oliver is more complex, flailing between pining for the lost love of his life and succumbing to his desires.  Mr. Dancy's Philips are significantly more reserved, one more painfully so than the other.  Ms. Riseborough's Sylvia's separate the most, proper and withheld in 1958 and a total free spirit in 2008.  Picking up the most fun is Adam James, playing an assortment of supporting roles, from a hilarious turn as a role-playing rent-boy, to a psychiatrist bordering on the sadistic.

Director Joe Mantello seems to be back on his stride in this play, using clever and thoughtful staging, almost choreographing the overlaps of period shifts from scene to scene.  He elicits strong performances with a nice focus on character.  David Zinn's functional set serves both periods nicely, avoiding any potential anachronism.  Paul Gallo's lighting evokes an effective noir-ish sensibility to the earlier period.

The show runs through March 20.

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