"Love!, Valor!, Compassion!": a Theater Mirror Review

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"Love!, Valor!, Compassion!": a Theater Mirror Review

note: entire contents copyright 1996 by Larry Stark


"Love! Valour! Compassion!"

                        Written by Terrence McNally
                        Directed by Paul Daigneault

            Gregory Mitchell.......................Neil Donohoe
            Arthur Pape.............................Jim O'Brien
            Perry Sellers...........................Jeff Miller
            John Jeckyll..........................Albert Cremin
            James Jekyll..........................Albert Cremin
            Buzz Hauser...........................Richard Carey
            Bobby Brahms........................Eddie Rutkowski
            Ramon Fornos......................Ricardo Rodriguez

                        Set Design by David Fortuna
         Costume Design by Jeffrey Scott Burrows & Troy Siegfried
                     Lighting Design by Suzanne Lowell
                        Sound Design by David Lane
                        Stage Manager Lisa Giuffre
                   Production Stage Manager Brian Wagner

                          SpeakEasy Stage Company
                            at THE LYRIC STAGE
                       140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON
                              1(617)437-7172
                               till 29 June
    

Terrence McNally's "Love! Valour! Compassion!" is a hysterically funny gay romp --- with razorblades embedded in it. He has reached as far down into his life as his toenails, and explained with uncompromising completeness all it means to be gay in today's world. The laughter never completely obscures the pain, but what causes pain goes so deep that only sudden, unexpected laughter can keep life in equilibrium.

The play covers events over the long weekends of Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day in a remote house and wooded grounds by a lake two hours north of New York City --- where eight "longime companions" are free to be their own, uninhibited, unashamedly gay selves. There is innocently amoral opportunism and lifelong monogamy and memory of long-past affaires, betrayal and forgiveness, boyish boorishness and camp one-upmanship and wit more sharper than a serpent's tooth, unashamed admiration of lots of total nudity, terror of imminent ugly death, intimately honest confession and hilariously self-deprecating put-downs and send- ups. And, unlike almost any other play about the same subjects, in this case the straight world is so remote it's never even thought of.

The Speakeasy Stage Company's Artistic Director Paul Daigneault has whipped his cast at lightning speed through this multifaceted play without losing either the pace, the shape, or the lightning twists from froth to dead seriousness and back, often within a line or two. And that cast is full of individual moments and ensemble exchanges that never flag. Speakeasy's style tends toward a "Hey gang, lookit what I can do onstage" surface self-indulgence, but they generally rise above that here.

Perhaps the hardest role is Albert Cremin's. His John Jeckyll is consumed with a self-loathing and envy of his identical twin brother James that he turns outward as vindictive spite; but Cremins also plays James, a fragile foreigner apologetic because he is near death from AIDS.

Richard Carey's Buzz Hauser wills himself to ignore his own full-blown AIDS by researching (and singing) every musical comedy ever seen on a stage. Jim O'Brien and Jeff Miller play two mismatched mates whose fourteen monogamous years together rest on a bedrock of sincere subtextual love.

Central to the action are the owners of the estate --- Gregory Mitchell (Neil Donohoe) an aging but famous modern dancer, and his lover Bobby Brahms (Eddie Rutkowski) who is self- sufficient though he was blind from birth. Their equilibrium is unbalanced by the predations of a "hot-bodied" young dancer (Ricardo Rodriguez) who acts first and rarely thinks of the consequences.

This quick precis of plot and people emphasizes the seriousness of the gay life, but the play is indeed funny, with tensions constantly broken by uncontrollable guffaws. You will laugh --- till you cry.