nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 16, 2005
Perry Ojeda's one-man show Pride, which premiered in a workshoppy production for two performances at Dixon Place's HOT! Festival, feels refreshingly like a first shot being fired in a new Bush Era, post-Queer Eye culture war. Without coming across as either blatantly political or activist, Pride reflects a gay sensibility characterized by maturity, self-awareness, restraint, and social responsiveness. Ojeda balances the progress that's been made in the gay rights movement with the very real homophobic backlash that we're now living through: his show is a plea for tolerance and acceptance in a society that seems in danger of forgetting how to do both of those things.
Pride is also a fun and funny entertainment, and, not at all incidentally, a showcase for Ojeda's numerous talents as actor, singer, writer, and performer. It's made up of more than a dozen character monologues, some of which include original songs that Ojeda has written with composer Randy Redd; a couple feature some dancing as well. (Director Karen Azenberg keeps the whole package moving briskly and smartly.) The pieces run the gamut from a lesson on sex education delivered by an ultra-conservative high school coach, to a cautionary tale about a young gay dancer who manages to ruin an opera and winds up selling himself on the streets, to a visit with a departing teacher at a Mormon church who sings a delightful song about polar bears that turns out to be a thinly disguised allegory about self-acceptance.
Two characters recur in Pride: a young wannabe actor named Zack whom we first meet auditioning for the new musical version of Death of a Salesman ("Rock Hard Willy") and who eventually winds up neck-deep in the gay sex-party scene; and the mother of another gay man named Roger, who leaves her son messages that convey the progress of his relationship with a yoga instructor (she wants him to settle down with a lawyer named George). The themes of these and most of the other pieces alternate between a plea for young gay people to treat themselves well and honestly and a dream of straight people not just tolerating but accepting and loving gay people rather than labeling and fearing them, as all too often still happens.
The best pieces in the show—which are also the final ones—illustrate Ojeda's concerns beautifully. One of them has Ojeda as a gay man recounting a dream/nightmare in which he's a heterosexual. The other depicts a Hispanic guy whose brother-in-law marries his same-sex partner (in Canada); this sketch charts the man's progress from revulsion to delight as he sits through a wedding ceremony he's sure he's going to detest. We need to hear more stories like this—many, many more.
Ojeda's writing is strong throughout, and his performance is consistently engaging and appealing. I applaud his courage: how many handsome leading-man types who have appeared in big-budget Broadway musicals are willing to be so up-front about their sexuality and to work with a funky off-off-Broadway institution like Dixon Place to develop a contemplative, challenging, and provocative show like this one?
Pride ends with an anthem called "Out in America" that ponders the difficulties of being just that in this day and age. Ojeda says that as a kid all he wanted was to belong; as an adult gay man, all he wants is to feel welcome in a country that made its name as the world's melting pot. It's one of the most authentically American ideas being aired on any stage in town.