May 18 2011 12:00 AM

Potent performances fuel a challenging drama

It was apropos that after the opening
night performance of Peppermint Creek’s “The Pride,” the New Order song
“Bizarre Love Triangle” came on the radio.  The
combination of characters and settings certainly qualify the
relationships in “The Pride” as bizarre love (and lust) triangles.

“The Pride” flips-flops three characters
between two time periods, 1958 and 2008. The characters are not the same
in both eras, but are variations of the same people if they had been
born into those eras. Think of it as an alternate universe scenario.

The play opens in 1958, with a group
meeting to go out to dinner. Illustrator Sylvia (Laura June Weissinger)
has invited Oliver (Wes Haskell), the author for whom she works, to meet
her husband Philip (City Pulse sales executive Allan I. Ross). The trio
makes overly polite, socially correct chit-chat over drinks. As the men
innately recognize each other’s homosexuality, their dialogue becomes
laden with deeper meaning.

The brilliance in Chad Badgero’s direction — and in the
performances of his cast — is in the pacing. Stillness pervades the
work, as characters carefully choose their words or silently size each
other up.

As bombs are dropped, facades crumble, or hearts are
broken, the actors control the audience by carefully measuring their
delivery of dialogue. Ross is especially good at this, which is key in
his presentation of the genteel yet guarded Philip.  

The 1958 plotline is superior to its 2008
counterpoint. A script focused on the 1958 events alone would be more
compelling, as an intense study of people coming to terms (or not) with
behaviors considered aberrant by society.

The 2008 episodes focus on Oliver’s sex
addiction and its impact on his relationship with Philip, which ties up
rather a bit too neatly. Haskell gets to investigate his character more
in-depth in 2008, but Philip and Sylvia become mere accessories in
Oliver’s life.

The 1958 Sylvia is a much more complex and interesting
character, a good woman who suffers as the collateral damage of the
triangle; the 2008 Sylvia is little more than a token mouthpiece for
tolerance, a variation of Grace from television’s “Will & Grace.” 

As Oliver’s straight best friend, she
rails about gay rights and acts astonished and outraged over the
insensitivity of others. While Weissinger brings as much freshness to
the role as possible, it is a type that is played out in popular

In contrast, ’58 Sylvia offers Weissinger
the chance to shine. In the opening scene, she is a charming social
butterfly as she introduces the two men and guides their conversation in
an attempt to create a bond between them. In short order, however, we
learn that Sylvia’s introduction of Oliver to her husband was a test of
sorts, confirming her suspicion that Philip harbors homosexual desires.

As ’58 Sylvia confronts the two men in
separate scenes, the complex barrage of emotions plays expertly across
Weissinger’s face in a truly heartbreaking performance. This is a woman
who masks her loneliness with perfect hair and make-up and a fine
wardrobe. Her breakdown is indicated by nuanced twitches of her ruby

Likewise, Ross’s portrayal of
buttoned-down ’58 Philip is a tour de force. He is the contractor who
builds the sexual tension of those ’58 scenes. For almost an hour,
Philip and Oliver circle each other without making contact, and the
tension is electrical. When the payoff comes, the moment is shockingly
short: It is not the happy ending we’d hoped for.

The cast is especially adept at making
the quick emotional and physical transitions necessary as their
interpersonal relationships change with the eras. Weissinger slips
effortlessly from brittle ’58 Sylvia to bouncy ’08 Sylvia as easily as
Haskell changes from prim ’58 Oliver to prancy ’08 Oliver. Ross has the
easiest transition to make in that manner, as Philip remains the
controlled one throughout.

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