MADC seems to have invaded Unifaun’s territory by using St James Cavalier for a strong production, ably directed by Michael Mangion, of The Pride, a play by Alexi Kay Campbell about homosexuality as experienced in 1958 and in the present time.
The two acts are structured as a series of scenes alternat-ing between past and present, juxtaposing the different problems faced by gays in the repressive 1950s and the very different ones of the libertarian present.
The main characters are three: Philip, Oliver and Sylvia. In the 1950s scenes, Philip is married to Sylvia, a sensitive and perceptive ex-actress who loves him but finds herself lonely in what has become a sexless marriage. When he meets Oliver, a writer whose book Sylvia is illustrating, and is a secretly practising gay man, the two men are drawn to each other.
In the contemporary scenes, the two men are both openly gay, but Oliver, who is promiscuous, is shattered by the recent breaking up of his strongly emotional relationship with Philip. In these contemporary scenes Sylvia is a straight close friend of Oliver’s, supporting him in his sad times.
The characterisation in the script is delicate and the performances of Philip Leone Ganado (Oliver), Malcolm Galea (Philip) and Julia Calvert, especially in the 1950s scenes bring out all the subtleties of yearning, self-distrust and loneliness and other emotions that make so many of the scenes dramatically gripping.
In the 1950s scenes Philip, a man who gets no satisfaction out of his work and not much happiness out of his marriage to Sylvia, combats his consciousness of being a closeted gay, by being aggressive towards men striking him as gay.
In one of the most powerful scenes in the play, superbly performed by Calvert, Sylvia grills him on his behaviour towards a former colleague of hers, clearly gay, whom she had introduced to her husband.
Mangion’s direction is notable for its combination of neatness and pace
Philip will not confess any-thing to Sylvia and he is even more strongly negative when Oliver, in a nuanced per-formance that hit me again and again, challenges Philip to be true to himself, making it clear that what he is offer-ing Philip is not just sex, but true love.
What Philip does accept for a short while, however, is merely the sex for which he has been secretly longing. And, it is with this acceptance, expressed very savagely, that the act ends.
The disagreeable scene in which Philip undergoes aversion therapy to achieve ‘normality’, however, shows his refusal to accept his real identity. Oliver is just as unhappy, relying solely on the occasional sexual encounter with strangers, and bereft of the emotional relationship he has always sought.
In the contemporary scenes, Oliver is also deprived for some time of the deep relationship he longs for, but apart from the satisfaction he finds in his journalistic activity, he can pay for exciting brands of sex, as in the scene where a rent-boy costumed in Nazi costume, swastika and all, treats him to rough bondage.
This Oliver, however, is not the sensitive plant of the 1950s Oliver; he is certainly incapable of experiencing the mystical experience at Delphi described so lyrically by Leone Ganado’s Oliver earlier in act one.
The contemporary Philip is not the depressed Philip of the 1950s, but his decision to leave the promiscuous Oliver is not lightly taken. It is only Oliver’s persistence in trying to get him back, supported by the rather jolly Sylvia, that finally succeeds, giving the contemporary lovers a happy ending.
Right at the end, however, the dramatist brings in the earlier Sylvia, though herself never happy, viewing with altruistic happiness the contentment Philip did find, even if for a short time, and perhaps prophesying the happiness other gay lovers will be able to find in the future.
Mangion’s direction is notable for its combination of neatness and pace, and for ensuring that his fine cast, all three, bare their needs and their sorrows so completely to the audience.
He himself plays amusingly the ‘Nazi’ who pleasures Oliver; a shrewd publisher of a paper interested in the gay experience; and finally, as the cold medical man who questions the 1950s Philip, as he prepares to undergo aversion therapy. Mangion here reminds us that he is also one of our ablest character actors.
This adult play should not be missed.
The Pride runs tonight and all through next weekend at St James Cavalier, Valletta.
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