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For Alexi Kaye Campbell's difficult drama, Diversionary imported director Glenn Paris, from Ion Theatre, and three Craig Noel Award-winning actors: Francis Gercke, Jessica John, and Brian Mackey. In spite of its accolades, The Pride's uneven script requires top shelf performances, which this group delivers.

The Pride was Campbell's first produced work. He'd been an actor for years and wrote the play more for actors than audiences. He could shape juicy moments, but not meanings.

In a sense, The Pride divides in two. The long, imitation-Chekhov first act begs for an editor. Then, as if Campbell learned some craft from Act one, the second has shorter, sharper scenes, the dialogue starts to crackle, and his themes come into focus, though not entirely.

Five of the 10 scenes take place in 1958, the others leap to 2008. Three people with the same names - Philip, Sylvia, and Oliver - appear in both years. They may, or may not, be a trio in a time-warp. In each, Oliver is a writer in love with Philip. Their relations compare the status of gay men 50 years apart.

The 1958 Philip is a real estate salesman married to devoted Sylvia. He wages such a war against his inner stirrings for Oliver that he becomes a "prisoner of fear." Philip dead-bolts his "real self" in the closet and will do anything - even aversion therapy - to keep it there.

In 2008, Philip and Oliver are lovers. Philip wants monogamy. But Oliver - be it a preference or sex-addiction - wants casual sex as well. To the disgusted Philip, such promiscuity exiles Oliver from his real self.

In effect, the play contrasts the repressed 50s with, from Philip's viewpoint, the excessive liberation of 2008. A fear of emigrating to genuine being has now become exile from it.

The Diversionary production makes the play feel much richer than its reductive conclusion. Matt Scott's elegant set has a large open circle, on the real wall, that might be a portal through which the characters time-travel five decades.

The leads must speak two British accents: stiff, "up-market" for the 50s, and a looser one, with liberated epithets, for today. The actors excel in both and the vocal differences help signal when a scene takes place.

Francis Gercke and Brian Mackey's detailed portrayals suggest that their Philips and Oliver's may be the same person, altered by different eras (a nature/nurture strand runs throughout). Jessica John's two Sylvia's are extremes: the original's profound sadness contrasts with Sylvia today, who may have the self-pride the others seek.

Dangerfield G. Moore does support work with precision, and his steely Doctor easily qualifies for Creep of the Month.

Designer Trista Roland makes her Diversionary debut with The Pride. Her costumes - especially old Sylvia's wraith-like and new Sylvia's color-wheel apparel - look like her budget was carte blanche.

Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights, playing through May 6.

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