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Wednesday, May 11,2011

Repression and expression

’The Pride’ asks provocative questions about perceptions of homosexuality

by James Sanford

When Sylvia discovers her husband, Philip, is having an
affair with Oliver, she can’t even say the term that defines their
relationship. It’s 1958 in London and, as author Alexi Kaye Campbell’s
“The Pride” reminds us, that sort of behavior wasn’t the sort of thing
people talked about in what was called “polite conversation.”


Campbell “has drawn some really intriguing parallels with
regard to social justice and human rights for homosexuals,” said Chad
Badgero, who is directing Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.’s production of
“The Pride,” opening Thursday. “In the 1950s, the atmosphere is so
repressive, they don’t even have words for it — it’s illegal. The first
time Sylvia uses the word ‘homosexual,’ it just sort of falls out of her
mouth; she’s afraid of it.”


Fast-forward 50 years to a different trio of people with
the same names: The 21st century Oliver and Philip are a committed
couple and Sylvia is a close friend. Yet there are still issues to be
addressed, including Oliver’s obsession with anonymous encounters and
sexual risk-taking. While society in general is more accepting, the
characters find openness and honesty create their own set of problems.


"Campbell’s mature ability to grip audiences with subtly
truthful disclosure is matched by his skill at construction," wrote
Variety critic David Benedict of the London staging of "The Pride."
"Although very different in tone and intent, the effect is not unlike
Todd Haynes’ period revamp ’Far From Heaven,’ but with considerably more
restraint and power."


The material requires cast members Wes Haskell, Andy
Huber, Allan I. Ross and Laura June Weissinger to move between the
buttoned-down 1950s and the considerably more casual environment of
2008.


“Everyone’s more brash,” Badgero said of the contemporary
scenes. “Their physicality completely changes. They’re more fluid and
not so tight-lipped. It’s been a great challenge for the actors.”


The language has also loosened up, although the
definitions aren’t always clear. For instance, in 2008, Sylvia overhears
a group of teenagers using the phrase “so gay” to describe things they
don’t like. 


“The play in general is really looking at how far we’ve come — or not come — in 50 years,” Badgero said. 


It’s a topic that raises a multitude of questions, some of which Badgero has addressed specifically to Campbell.


“Hallelujah for Facebook,” Badgero said. “The playwright
and I have been talking back and forth, and it’s been illuminating and
wonderful.”


“The Pride” is another piece in Peppermint Creek’s season
devoted to shows about what Badgero calls “the idea of being marked.”
“Caroline, or Change” looked at the dawn of the civil rights struggle
through the eyes of an African-American maid in a white Jewish
household. Blue-collar workers realized the corrosive power of poorly
chosen words in Neil Labute’s “Reasons to Be Pretty.” The astringent
comedy “Distracted” centered on a harried mother uncertain of how to
handle her 9-year-old son, who was recently diagnosed with
attention-deficit disorder.


As “The Pride” straddles two time periods, it looks ahead
to another. “If these characters were in 2058, what would the story be
then?” Badgero asked.


“Mr. Campbell wants the play to be sort of like a ghost
story. The past is a ghost in the present; the present is a ghost in the
past.”


In the same way today’s young people look back on the days
of racial segregation and wonder how anyone could have endorsed those
ideas, Badgero wonders if the next generation will have a similar take
on gay rights.


“That’s the hope,” he said. “When we are old and the
current generation is our age, maybe they will look back and say, ‘Can
you believe marriage equality was ever an issue?’ That’s why this piece
is important.”


'The Pride'
Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.
Through May 21
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, May 15
Creole Gallery, 1218 Turner St., Lansing
$15 adults; $10 students and seniors
(517) 927-3016
peppermintcreek.org



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