Local Arts

Two love stories – and 50+ years of how we think about love, lust, choice

Steven Buchanan and Cory Collins portray two men, in two time periods, in two love stories.
Steven Buchanan and Cory Collins portray two men, in two time periods, in two love stories. Queen City Theatre Company

“Go back in the closet where you belong,” wrote a commenter on Queen City Theatre Company’s Facebook page. It – and a slew of other comments – was posted beneath a photo of two men kissing, a promotional shot for QC’s current show, “The Pride.”

If male lips meeting in a photo bothers you, stay away from this play – which is largely about where a gay man “belongs,” as it happens.

“The Pride” – which earned playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell the U.K.’s Whiting Award for relevant contribution to contemporary society, nearly a decade ago – chronicles two love stories which take place 50 years apart. Each features three characters: Philip, Oliver and Sylvia. The first is set in 1958; the second in 2008. Both include explicit language and sex scenes.

Campbell’s script deftly compares the social mores of the 1950s and the 21st century through the sexuality and sexual behavior of the three. The f-bomb is overused, and the English accents are uncertain, but the play is a thought-provoking study of loyalty, love and choices.

In 1958, Sylvia is married to Philip and works with Oliver – who knows he’s gay and wants to live a life true to that. Philip is definitely in the closet, and falling in love with Oliver. Their story is a three-way struggle. Should true love be honored, or hidden? Is it strong enough to overcome societal condemnation? These questions form the guts of the 1958 story, which is the better acted and more compelling of the two.

In 2008, Philip and Oliver are lovers, and Sylvia is their friend. As depicted in the play – as opposed to the reality we know exists (hello Amendment 1 and HB2) – this couple is hindered not by society, but by their own actions. The availability of sex in its many permutations is too powerful for Oliver to resist. The internet is his enabler, and perhaps his enemy.

Director Glenn T. Griffin seamlessly differentiates the two stories through distinctive cultural touchstones. Sylvia’s elaborate coif and Oliver’s tailored suit symbolize the ’50s. The switch to the 2000s is as easy as a costume change: A modern bob and colorful tiny briefs put the characters firmly in the 21st century.

Cory Collins plays Phillip. His solid performance in both eras grounds the play. Katie Addison plays Sylvia. She garners sympathy in the ’50s, ably portraying the wife as victim, thrown under the bus (unknowingly?) by a gay man living a straight life. And she provides the voice of reason in 2008.

Steve Buchanan plays Oliver, arguably the most interesting character in this dual drama. His Olivers are divergent: In 1958 he knows who he is, and makes a gallant attempt to achieve happiness. In 2008 he is befuddled and unfocused (perhaps that’s the cause of his wavering English accent).

There’s a gravitas to the 1958 story, when these characters find it culturally unacceptable to be who they are. In the 2008 story, the freedom to find true love is taken for granted. The playwright doesn’t pontificate, but the juxtaposition of the tales is troubling.

While cultural mores have changed, much has not. People want to be loved. And according to Queen City Theatre’s Facebook feedback, haters still feel free to hate.

The Pride

Through May 13 at Duke Energy Theatre at Spirit Square; 345 N. College St.; 704-372-1000; www.queencitytheatre.com; explicit sex and language.