Love! Valour! Compassion! turns out to be a performance of Love! Mortality! Endurance!
Eight gay men assemble for three summer weekends at a beautiful upstate New York house in Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion! Tellingly, the place is called Manderley. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again," begins Daphne du Maurier's spooky novel Rebecca, and there are echoes of her prose in the several monologues that weave the plot together. Manderley is owned by Greg, a dancer and choreographer now in his forties who's concerned about his waning creativity and aging body and lives with his blind young lover, Bobby. Among the visitors are Ramon, a frisky, sexy, young Puerto Rican dancer who has his eye (and other things) on Bobby; Buzz, a costume designer and musical-comedy aficionado with an eccentric and encyclopedic knowledge of the form and a tendency to burst into song; long-term stable couple and reluctant role models Perry and Arthur; and John, a sardonic Englishman whom nobody likes and who has the sneaky habit of reading Greg's journal in secret. Eventually, the group is joined by John's identical twin, James, who is as warm and kindly as his brother is unpleasant.
Love! Valour! Compassion! is fairly long (three hours, with two intermissions), and its plot discursive: You get fidelity, infidelity and almost-infidelity; people betray, curse and support each other. There's a new love affair. Two of the men have AIDS, and a sense of mortality shadows all the goings-on. But the play also evokes a very specific milieu with lucidity and affection. While the sense of belonging to a beleaguered outgroup brings forth occasional bursts of anger or self-pity, there's also the humor and warmth of this subculture, the hilarious flamboyance (lots of nudity), and the understanding and empathy shared by all the characters. Every now and then, the script becomes gushy or sentimental — when Perry lets fly with a froth of racist invective, for example, and we soon learn that he didn't really mean it, he's just afraid; only John (the Poor Judd of this particular show) is allowed to remain unrelievedly nasty, and eventually we get to see even his pulsating heart. But for the most part the dialogue is sharp, incisive and funny, and the touching moments work.
For this Vintage Theatre production, director Bernie Cardell has staged Love! Valour! Compassion! on a simple set of varying levels where a bench can become a canoe or a car, and a platform a bed. The cast works well together, creating a genuine sense of community in the intimate theater space. Andy Anderson is very pleasing as a solid, kindly Arthur, and his performance works perfectly against Charles Wingerter's more flammable and high-strung Perry. Todd Black is sympathetic as Greg, the quietly unassuming pivot and center of the action. Preston Britton balances his Buzz perfectly between swishy stereotype and real, suffering human being — though I do wish he'd slow down sometimes. Shane Delavan is far more convincing as John than as saintly, redemptive James, who comes across, especially at first, as a bit of a caricature. Bobby, too, has a sweet essential goodness, and Chris Silberman communicates this with effective straightforwardness. And Keith Rabin is entertainingly energetic as dancer Ramon.
Love! Valour! Compassion! turns out to be a celebration of Love! Mortality! Endurance! And really, what else is there?
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