A Long way to go

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

You know those scenic drives? A loop by the ocean or through the forest?

Have you ever been in a well-designed car, beautiful day, scenic loop that ended up being roughly an hour too long?

That's my experience of the The Pride Alexi Kaye Campbell's play at The Wallis in Beverly Hills.

The structure of the play is a time-shifting duo of stories. One set in the past, 1958, the other roughly the present 2008.

Back in the 1950s, we open at Sylvia and Philip's home. They're married. He's a miserable real-estate agent selling "flats" somewhere in London. She's an illustrator who's invited her employer Oliver out to dinner. Oliver's a writer of children's books. Oliver is gay. It turns out, so is Sylvia's husband though he'd never admit it and would brutalize you for even suggesting it. You can imagine where this story goes, right?

Flash forward to 2008, where our companion story plays out with a different Sylvia, Philip and Oliver. Same names, same rough ages - totally different world, sort of. Oliver, the new Oliver, is still gay and is still a writer but this time for magazines. Sylvia is Oliver's straight best friend and our modern day Philip is gay and in fact is just breaking up with Oliver. Seems that Oliver has a little problem with random anonymous sex with people other than Philip: shady public parks, random hookups at clubs that kind of thing. Again, you can probably imagine where this story goes, more or less.

The two stories alternate and attempt in some way to intertwine. It's the kind of structure that Tom Stoppard excels at in Arcadia, a historical puzzle where we juxtapose time and character to reveal a deeper truth.

At least that's the notion and for the first couple of scenes that's how it goes. The cast is wonderful, crisp, clear, physically present. The Wallis has built a tiny theater-in-the-round in their small black box space that seats roughly 120 people on four steeply raked sides, so every seat is great and there's the feeling of surrounding a tiny sexual arena of sorts. The set is a minimal study in transparency and mirrors. The stage floor is a mirrored box. The furniture all transparent (think that iconic Phillipe Starck ghost chair). The direction is tight. Transitions are underscored with classic love songs from each period.

What's not to like?

Nothing really, until you pass roughly an hour and a half -- the intermission mark -- and wonder what does it all add up to? By the time you've reached the final blackout at two and a half hours, you'll wonder if you took a wrong turn somewhere.

Like that scenic drive, all the constituent parts are lovely but it hasn't really taken you anywhere. It's not that internally the moments aren't compelling -- they are. Homophobia -- internalized or not -- is tragic. But for a play of this length, you yearn for more. Why the parallels between 1958 and 2008? How are the threads of history woven together beyond a single character?

And most importantly: why now? And that answer needs to be deeper that it's Pride month.

If you think this story will speak to you, it probably will because it's well done. Just don't expect the journey to end with any powerful revelations, either onstage or off.

The Pride plays at The Wallis in Beverly Hills through July 9.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Photo: (L-R) Augustus Prew and Jessica Collins in The Pride. (Kevin Parry/The Wallis)