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The Pride

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Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play, The Pride, is an intellectually probing examination of gay men struggling to form relationships in two radically different eras. The 50 years that separate the illicit 1958 love affair from the internally troubled 2008 couple are light years away in potential and acceptance.

Campbell won the Olivier Award for the original London production of the play, and a starry New York outing featured Ben Wishaw and Hugh Dancy. The new production at the Wallis is the Los Angeles premiere, and is timed to play during LGBT Pride month.

In 1958, we meet Philip (Neil Bledsoe) and Sylvia (Jessica Collins), an outwardly perfect couple. Sylvia is a former actress who has moved into book illustrations. Feeling a kinship with the writer of her current job, she’s anxious for him to meet her husband. As luck would have it, Philip opens the door for the visiting author, Oliver (Augustus Prew). As they meet, the action freezes and the lights suddenly blaze brilliantly for a moment. It’s the straight play equivalent of South Pacific’s “Twin Soliloquies.” We know these two men will defy convention and the law as they attempt to come to terms with their mutual attraction.

The external world of 2008 is less fraught for gay relationships, but that doesn’t make a successful pairing easy. The modern Oliver is introduced in the middle of a sex game with a hired rent boy (Matthew Wilkas) in full Nazi garb. They are caught in flagrante as Oliver’s ex, Philip, enters to pick up the last of his possessions. Though the men love each other, their relationship can’t survive Oliver’s constant infidelities and his refusal to deal with his sex addiction.

The two stories weave in and out of each other, allowing us to savor the differences in the couples and the eras in which they live. While neither narrative is completely original, Campbell’s astute character observation and deliberate pace hold your interest throughout.

Director/Designer Michael Arden has taken Campbell’s essentially realistic play and added an intriguing layer of stylization. That moment with the lights is an example. But, more conspicuous, are the transitions between eras, when characters walk into a scene and sense the retreating era as a spectral presence. Arden further distances the play from reality with his scenic design. The floor and furniture in both periods are made of clear acrylic, creating a cool, sterile background for the play’s action.

The performances are strong. Bledsoe is appropriately tight-lipped and reserved as the historical Philip, but he manages to access his emotions much more readily in the contemporary scenes. Prew is fascinating to watch in both eras, as a myriad of competing emotions play constantly across his highly expressive face. Collins’ 1958 Sylvia is an approachable regal beauty who discovers betrayal in her partner. If the her contemporary Syliva is less memorable, it comes from the character’s decidedly supporting status in the drama. Wilkas dazzles in his trio of roles and brings some much-needed levity to the proceedings.

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts    June 14 – July 9, 2017    TheWallis.org

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.