SMTD senior Colter Schoenfish presented Alexi Kaye Campbell’s debut play “The Pride” in the Newman Studio for his senior thesis this past Friday. Alternating between 1958 and 2008, “The Pride” focuses on the changing attitudes toward sexuality over the course of five decades and the courage it takes to become who you truly are. The play follows the lives of the same three characters, 50 years apart, and their relationships with one another and their own sexuality. The characters battle with hiding behind a figurative veil so as to not expose their true selves.
The scenic design by SMTD sophomore Grace Linzner represented this “veil of lies,” quite literally. The play was done in thrust with the audience on three sides of the playing area, a smart choice for Schoenfish. This allowed the actors to be in closer proximity to the audience, heightening the character’s vulnerability (or lack thereof). Sheer see-through curtains were hung up along every side of the playing area, closing it off to the audience. Through the course of the show an actor would rip down one of the curtains. As the veil was literally shed, it was taken off symbolically as well. As each actor ripped down a curtain, a truth about a character was revealed. By the end of the show, all the curtains were gone. The characters could no longer hide behind the veil from the judgement of others, either literally or figuratively. Only their most vulnerable wants and desires were left onstage for all to witness. This was an original and clever idea that was executed beautifully.
Unlike this scenic design, Campbell’s writing lacked originality. Although the theme to live your truth is an important one, it is also one that has been overdone in literature, especially in regards to LGBTQ relationships. However, while I would have liked to see LGBTQ relationships explored in a more unique way, the play is quite genuine.
Yet, Campbell seemed so impassioned by his ideas that his writing was sometimes preachy. There was little faith given to the audience, and it seemed that the author was worried viewers would not recognize the central theme of the play. He felt the need to utilize monologues to repeat similar ideas over and over again. While the text was full of intricate language and imagery, it often felt repetitive and unnecessary.
Although the British dialects faltered, the overall delivery of the text by the cast of four was astonishing. The performances by SMTD freshman Chris Jensen (The Man) and SMTD senior Alexandra Reynolds (Sylvia) were particularly impressive.
Jensen played numerous characters throughout the production. Most of them provided comedic relief during times of great tension. Jensen was grounded in his delivery and provided a refreshing change of pace to the overall tone of the play. He was also the strongest among the ensemble of actors in dialects.
Reynolds’ attention to detail and commitment to her work made repetitive dialogue exciting and intelligent. An inexperienced actor would have drowned in the river of emotions that Sylvia faces throughout the play. Yet, Reynolds took this demanding character on with great confidence and poise. Her natural knack for correct pacing and delivery was dynamite.
Another noteworthy member of “The Pride” team was director, Colter Schoenfish. Schoenfish had great choices in terms of stillness and movement. Never splitting focus, important information was always relayed clearly to the audience. The movements of the actors seemed organic while still being dynamic. The orchestration of the transitions were smooth and time effective. Schoenfish had a fantastic understanding of the play itself and a unique vision for the production.
SMTD and Stamps junior David Forsee’s use of projection was as aesthetically pleasing as it was effective in providing a new color to a play that could have easily been simply designed.
Being a queer woman, it is always exciting to see queer people represented in artistic spaces. I felt that the stories of the characters on stage were told with grace, empathy and compassion. The struggle to be true to yourself is universal, but it is especially pertinent in LGBTQIA+ communities.
I find myself being “less queer” in spaces that I read as unwelcoming. I find myself toning down who I am to appease the general public. Plays such as “The Pride” (when done well) remind me that a life lived in fear of who I am is not a life worth living.
Watching “The Pride” on Friday evening, I saw on stage decades worth of people who have felt the same as I. I looked around at the encapsulated audience members sitting beside me, people hanging on to every word that was spoken, and I was reminded of everyone who still does feel the same as I. I was reminded that the world is full of people praying that they’ll never have to take off their mask. Hoping that they can hide behind whatever veil they have created, safely tucked away from others judgement and from their own true selves.
As the final veils fell and the actors took their bows to a crowd standing in uproarious applause, I was reminded how truly beautiful it is when we refuse to hide our truths anymore and how terrifyingly exhilarating being who we are must be. I was reminded that it is that type of terrifying exhilaration that makes not only riveting theatre, but a riveting life.