Christine Dolen

Island City Stage’s ‘The Pride’ examines gay life in two different eras

Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride, a 2008 Olivier Award-winning drama, is a play that illuminates the vast differences between gay life in the mid-20th century and today. It’s a challenging script to pull off, as it journeys back and forth between 1958 and 2008, its three principal actors playing different characters in each era.

Fort Lauderdale’s Island City Stage, a small LGBT-focused company that launched less than two years ago, meets the play’s myriad challenges in its newly opened, season-ending production. That’s hardly a surprise, given that Island City’s The Timekeepers recently collected six Carbonell Awards, the most given to any 2013 South Florida production.

Set in London, The Pride focuses on three characters in 1958, three different characters in 2008, though the names don’t change. The script time travels repeatedly, so that an actor exits a ‘50s scene and re-enters as his or her 2008 namesake. Sounds confusing, but director Andy Rogow, the transformative actors, costume designer Peter A. Lovello and set designer Michael McClain keep the era of each scene quite clear. One clever visual cue: An old-fashioned typewriter in ‘58 gets flipped backwards, revealing a 21st century laptop.

Campbell’s earlier story is one of repression, longing, loathing and danger. Oliver (Michael McKeever), the successful author of children’s books, arrives at the flat of his illustrator Sylvia (Faiza Cherie) and her husband Philip (Bruce Linser) for a quick drink before dinner. Though the conversation between the men consists of awkward small talk, something electric passes between them, something that the beautiful but melancholy Sylvia can’t help noticing.

Eventually, the inevitable happens, to Oliver’s joy and Philip’s disgust. Oliver imagines that their “sacred and important” relationship can continue, while the self-loathing Philip wants nothing of the sort. The disconnect of desires leads to a horrific act of violence at the end of the first act, followed by Philip’s gruesome stab at aversion therapy in the second.

The Oliver (McKeever again) of 2008 is a freelance journalist living with his partner Philip (Linser), and again, the men are at odds. Philip is completely committed and monogamous, but Oliver can’t — or won’t — give up his penchant for anonymous sex. Philip has decided that he’s had enough and moves out. Oliver, drunk and devastated, seeks distraction in a role-playing hookup with a rent boy dressed as a Nazi (Sean Dorazio), then turns to his best pal Sylvia (Cherie) for emotional solace.

The Pride does have its flaws. With a first act running 90 minutes, the script could certainly be trimmed. And the play’s sunny, hopeful ending, coming so soon after the Oliver-Philip breakup, seems improbable at best.

Adopting British accents, the actors artfully delineate their different characters. McKeever’s ‘50s Oliver is a sensitive soul who longs to live an open, authentic life; present-day Oliver is a witty mess. Linser’s first Philip exudes barely controlled rage, while his present-day Philip is a decent and wounded man. Cherie is simply haunting as Philip’s lonely wife; as the contemporary Sylvia, she’s cheeky and wise. Dorazio is impressive in all three of his supporting roles, as the not-so-menacing Nazi, a chilling doctor and a garrulous magazine editor with a wrenching story to share.

Next season, Island City plans two world premieres, a drama, a comedy and an off-site return of The Timekeepers. Given the company’s work this season, including its production of The Pride, that’s a lineup to anticipate.