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Sexual Identity Writ Large in The Pride

04/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"He's the best young actor around," said Julie Taymor of Ben Whishaw at the Lucille Lortel Theater opening of a new play, Alexi Kaye Campbell's The Pride, a recent hit in London. Taymor knows, having directed the young actor as Ariel in The Tempest, to be released by Disney in December. "That's why I'm here tonight," she added.

In The Pride, Ben Whishaw gets a fresh fifties' haircut, a handsome change from his longer coif as John Keats in Bright Star. With agility and grace he plays Oliver, a writer who in the first scene recounts an epiphany experienced at the Oracle at Delphi to a couple upon first meeting the husband, Philip, the equally fetching Hugh Dancy and wife, Sylvia, a one-time actress, now an illustrator with the lovely Andrea Riseborough in the role: "Everything will be all right."

The "everything" is sexually transgressive for 1958, as the air in the living room becomes palpably man-to-man heavy. Segue to 2008, where Oliver, same actor, same sexual proclivities in the permissive present must face the consequences of his promiscuity. His lover, Philip, (Dancy) has moved out. An actress, Sylvia (Riseborough), is an attentive friend. Adam James, in a variety of parts provides humorous and touching moments -- for example, impersonating a Nazi in a fizzled kinky interlude.

As ably directed by Joe Mantello, The Pride is especially resonant in a violent scene where Oliver speaks of his love for Philip who responds in shame. The idea of pride in one's desires might be taken as a plea for openness; as Oliver says to the closeted Philip, you have an opportunity to find out who you are. The Pride may be about sexual identity, but the subtext is loneliness, and in that regard no one suffers more than the emotionally generous Sylvia, in both her incarnations.