TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence), NYC’s oldest and longest-producing LGBTQ theatre company, continues its 50th Anniversary Season with the world premiere of Pride House, Chris Weikel’s new comedy, directed by Igor Goldin. For those who want to cut to the chase, here’s my recommendation: GO. NOW!
Weikel has created a cast of all-too-familiar characters to anyone who’s been to the Cherry Grove section of Fire Island. Beatrice (Jamie Heinlein) is the hostess presiding over an eclectic group of “lost boys and girls” mostly associated with Broadway.
The group includes: Beatrice’s gay ex-husband Thomas (Patrick Porter); theatre queen Arthur Brill (Tom Souhrada) and his retinue — Black Follies dancer Edwin Marshall (London Carlisle), the overly blase and affected Stephen (Jake Mendes), and the more innocent Brad (Alex Herrera); exiled royal children Maxine Franc (Raquel Sciacca) and her younger brother Hugo (Calvin Knegten); Thomas’ abandoned lover John (Aaron Kaplan); and Beatrice’s widowed friend Natalia (Jessica Disalvo). To a party at her rented bungalow, Pride House, Beatrice has also invited local Black handyman Poppy (Dontonio Demarco) and married couple George and Irene Gerard (Desmond Dutcher and Gail Dennison).
George is barely able to contain his latent homophobia and racism while Irene tries to balance her veneer of gracious bonhomie with her position as a community leader. All around them the visiting show folk engage in openly camp behavior and queer romantic entanglements they’ve had to keep under wraps at home. The night of Beatrice’s party is also the night of the disaster known as the Great Hurricane of 1938, which caused severe property damage and loss of life on Fire Island, the south shore of Long Island, and up into New England. Over the next days and months, while the entire community grapples with the wisdom of rebuilding destroyed homes during an economic depression, emotional connections are tested and new relationships are forged among the party-goers.
I cannot too highly praise Chris Weikel’s script. It is emotionally solid, with fully-imagined characters in realistic, well-defined relationships. It tells its story briskly and economically without relinquishing one iota of its power. It is serious when it needs to be, richly humorous in both wry and campy ways, and a total joy in all ways. In bringing the show to life, director Igor Goldin skillfully guides his acting troupe along the various plot lines without creating a muddle, encouraging them to deliver strong, audience-pleasing performances.
Out of a stellar cast I want to commend Gail Dennison’s Irene, a realistic, good-hearted, good-intentioned woman who could have easily been regarded as the villain of the piece but surprisingly, touchingly isn’t; the sweet rebound romance between Alex Herrera’s Brad and Aaron Kaplan’s John, tentative and hopeful; and the “outsider” points of view of London Carlisle’s Edwin and Jessica Disalvo’s Natalia, each in their own way looking for a place to belong. Overarching the entire play is the generous heart and spirit mixed with pragmatism that is Jamie Heinlein’s Beatrice. She truly is the “queen Bea” of Pride House.
Of course, no show is complete without outstanding professional technical work. Huge amounts of credit go to Scenic Designer Evan Frank, who has turned the Flea Theatre’s Siggy Stage into a cozy beach house with a view of the bay; Costume Designer Ben Philipp, who has conjured up everything from the childrens’ bathing suits to a resplendent drape for a drag Cleopatra complete with jeweled headdress; and Lighting Designer David Castaneda and Sound Designer Morry Campbell, setting moods ranging from a casual house party with dancing to the fury of a hurricane.
Pride House is a semi-fictional slice of Fire Island history that never ceases to entertain. It is a gem and a joy, and I only hope that it has a long life in other productions. If you want to be one of the lucky ones who will be able to say “I saw it when…”, get your tickets now! I cannot urge you more strongly to make the trip to off-Broadway’s Flea Theatre and see Pride House before its all-too-short limited engagement ends.
Pride House is presented by TOSOS at The Siggy inside the Flea Theatre on 20 Thomas St.in New York through Feb. 10, 2024. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to tososnyc.org.