TIME IS ON OUR SIDE (Simpatico): Philadelphia’s living history of gay pride and social progress

Ryan Walter and Kristen Norine in Simpatico’s TIME IS ON OUR SIDE (Photo credit: Kathryn Raines, Plate 3 Photography)
Ryan Walter and Kristen Norine in Simpatico’s TIME IS ON OUR SIDE (Photo credit: Kathryn Raines, Plate 3 Photography)

It’s all about progress. When you’re waiting for it to happen, it seems like an eternity, but in retrospect, and with historical hindsight, it becomes evident that things do change with time—and often for the better! TIME IS ON OUR SIDE is the latest work of playwright R. Eric Thomas, commissioned and produced by Simpatico Theatre Project. It’s a funny, poignant, and uplifting Philly-centric show that considers the intersection of the city’s history with gay rights, through the post-modern lens of a local podcast and the mystery of an old secret that slowly comes to light and illuminates the present.

Director Jarrod Markman and a high-octane cast of four deliver Thomas’s seamless mix of history and hilarity, heart and camp to perfection, with spot-on timing, vivid characterizations, and engaging emotion. Friends and co-hosts of a podcast series on Philadelphia’s past, Kristen Norine as the personally restrained and slightly awkward Annie and Carl Clemons-Hopkins as the more audacious, forward-looking, and wise-cracking Curtis (“We’re queers that bullshit about history”) balance, challenge, and support each other with complementary personalities, heartfelt conflict, and believable camaraderie.

Ryan Walter and Brandi Burgess are a riot as the flamboyant Rene, who embellishes and excels at “the art of storytelling,” and the effusive Claudia, who loves and gushes about everything, to the point of making herself feel “lightheaded.” When Claudia discovers an intriguing artifact during a podcast taping at Annie’s, she triggers the co-hosts’ independent investigations of its meaning, revealing the intimate details of a family and the emergence of Philadelphia’s Gay Rights Movement. Both Walter and Burgess also portray significant figures from an older generation of the mid-20th century, with the distinctive characterizations, psychology, and attitudes of their era. Walter’s Mr. Blankenship and Burgess’s Mr. Ramondi are especially hysterical send-ups of eccentric old-time Philadelphians.

Costumes by LeVonne Lindsay–including Rene’s over-the-top “halftan”—contribute to the visual definition of the individual characters. Christopher Haig’s monochrome interior set, hung with furnishings, accessories, and picture frames, envisions home as an archive of objects, events, and memories that matter, but pale over time in contrast with the vibrant colorful present. The terrific script, direction, acting, and design are underscored with some well-choreographed segments of movement by Amy Smith, which portray the intersectionality of the personages, their struggles, and triumphs through time and space, and profoundly remind us that the names in the patches of an AIDS quilt are those of real people.

Along with all the laughs elicited by the lovable characters’ engaging pop culture chitchat and behavior (the scene of Rene instructing Curtis on cruising is priceless), TIME IS ON OUR SIDE raises some serious issues about secrecy and shame, what is personal and what belongs to the community at large, and what is private versus what should be made public for the advancement of human rights, legal equality, and the socio-political celebration of diversity. It will leave you thinking about the course of history, proud of the progress that has been made so far, and empowered to forge more positive change for the future.

[The Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks St.] June 3-26, 2016; simpaticotheatre.org.


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