Chicago Theater Review: THE PRIDE (About Face Theatre at Victory Gardens)

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by Lawrence Bommer on June 14, 2013

in Theater-Chicago


The Pride is an invaluable offering for Pride Month, or any other for that matter. Deeply textured and perfectly enacted, this Olivier Award-winning script by British playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell shifts eras to look at whether sex improves or just persists with time — and I don’t mean as we get older. Lavishing audiences with sexy stories that deliver thinking drama, About Face Theatre has landed a big catch, superbly shaped by Bonnie Metzgar’s perfect-pitch staging and wizard casting. As the characters slowly revolve around the stage, changing clothes to fit the current Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of About Face Theatre’s THE PRIDE at Victory Gardens.“present,” Campbell ingeniously switches from 1958 to 2008 to show how three similarly named London characters are possible vanguards or just products of their periods.

At the peak of the Eisenhower Era, Philip (John Francisco) is closeted and married to the very perceptive Sylvia (Jessie Fisher), an editor ahead of her time and a wife who’s resigned to never being a mother. He’s visited by Oliver (Patrick Andrews), Sylvia’s latest literary discovery. After earlier experiencing an “epiphany at Delphi” that all will be right, searching Oliver is even more convinced when he falls for her handsome realtor husband. He’s especially taken by Philip’s dream to go to Africa and expand his soul beyond this flat in Pimlico: He thinks that’s a “tell” for tolerance.

But this is 1958: Despite Sylvia’s desperate desire to make her husband finally happy, Philip denies his secret self and despises the poofters who diddle in the park. Worse, Philip can only see gay sex as doggy-style violence, as empty as brief. Inevitably, he will self-destructively embrace the disgusting — and unsuccessful — aversion therapy that then seemed much more progressive than the hormone treatments that drove code-breaker Alan Turing to an early suicide. (So-called “ex-Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of About Face Theatre’s THE PRIDE at Victory” therapists maintained that if one can vomit at the sight of beautiful men, he’ll be free of decadence forever.)

Fifty years later, a seemingly evolved Philip is now estranged from his devoted Oliver. Their now-sanctioned relationship has fallen afoul of the perils that partners have faced for eons — jealousy, infidelity, mistrust, sexual boredom leading to kinky role-playing. Oliver, suffering a throwback zest for public sex with strangers, hires a callboy (Ben Sprunger) to play a Nazi thug, only to endure recriminations from the nasty nelly when Philip interrupts the ugly fantasy. It’s gay theater’s seemingly inexhaustible character clash — sexual outlaws versus committed couples. But still-advanced Sylvia, a fag hag with more dignity than both boys times ten, hopes to bring the needy lovers, too wary for their own good, together on a bench overlooking the Pride Parade.

May “The Pride” be with them, especially Oliver, whose haunting sense of life’s brevity gives him an empathy that transcends identity and feels as absolute an attitude as anything we feel here.

Campbell incisively asks questions he wisely makes the audience answer: How much do we want the truth to set us free? Is loneliness — a major menace that stalks these characters — inescapable as it shifts shapes to suit the times? Are ever-anticipating, willfully experimenting “lost souls” like Oliver forever doomed to deserve lovers from the future but not just now? Finally, with all the post-Stonewall progress that Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of About Face Theatre’s THE PRIDE at Victory Gardens.LGBTQ folks have made despite AIDS and homophobia, is divorce really better than denial?

In these 140 minutes, Metzgar’s quartet achieve four personal bests: Francisco doggedly conveys early Philip’s cruel repression and the later lad’s equally paralyzing confusion over the power of promiscuity to pervert passion. Andrews, one of Chicago’s supplest performers on large and small stages alike, makes Philip a dreamer for all times, his hard-earned hope as firm a force as any marriage contract. The greatest contrast, Fisher’s magnificent Sylvia goes from a loveless marriage to a full-blown friendship so rich it puts love in its place. Finally, Sprunger deftly ranges from a reluctant Aryan dreamboy to a straight editor with good but inept intentions to a doctor worthy of Mengele.

Well mounted in the Victory Gardens Theater’s upstairs studio, About Face’s Theatre’s engrossing love stories question in all the right directions. As much as 2011’s summer hit The Homosexuals, this is must-see stagecraft.

photos by Michael Brosilow

The Pride
About Face Theatre
Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.
scheduled to end on July 13, 2013 EXTENDED to July 28, 2013
for tickets, call (773) 871-3000 or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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