Pride Films & Plays at Rivendell Theatre. By Terrence McNally. Directed by David Zak and Derek Van Barham. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 20mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Dan Jakes
An alternative title for Terrence McNally's 2007 collage drama could simply be Gay America: Abridged. In montage scenes spanning a century that are spliced between two acts, the playwright (whose other gay-themed works include 1995's Love! Valour! Compassion! and this year's Mothers and Sons) touches upon gay marriage, gay adoption, bathhouses, poppers, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the advent of drag, cybersex, the AIDS crisis, Stonewall, queer academia, and a multitude of other milestones dotting the lineage of gay history. Nostalgia seems to be the filter of choice they're viewed through, and it looks to be the primary driver of this Pride Films and Plays production co-directed by David Zak and Derek Van Barham.
That's made especially apparent in a late scene between two young students and two "elder-queers," as they insist on calling them, whom they're interviewing for a class project. After rattling off a string of oppressions, one of the confused youngsters asks why the earlier generation didn't do more to fight back, and how life and love in secrecy and on the outskirts of society could be a thing to look back on warmly. One of the older men replies, "It was just…different." Incredibly simplistic and condescending depiction of young gay men aside (probably more the product of Zak and Van Barham's production than McNally's words, as the kids talk like Jezebel.com comments sprung to life), that looks to be McNally's point. There is no one marker for the gay experience in America over the last 100 years. Rather, it's a blur of events that bonded and formed a community, whether they knew it at the time or not.
In a few moments where the whirlwind, encyclopedic pace slows down, like in celebratory piano bar scenes, or one between an escort (Ben Burke) and a john (Edward Fraim), we get a little closer to the joyful discovery and intimacy McNally is trying to muster. Likewise, another scene with Burke as a group therapist puts forward enough material for its own show. Over the course of many decades and 36 or so characters, though, those emotions are muddled out by noise.