KPBS AIRDATE: June 4, 1997
It’s Terrence McNally Time. Two Tony Award-winning Best Plays back to back. Last week, San Diego Playgoers brought us the national tour of “Master Class,” and now, at Diversionary Theatre, we have the San Diego premiere of “Love! Valour! Compassion!” Ample opportunity to enjoy the wit, wisdom, melodrama and artistic sensibility of this talented playwright.
“Master Class” showed, as if his “Lisbon Traviata” hadn’t, what a glorious opera queen McNally is. As his centerpiece, in what is virtually a one-woman show, he gives us the diva di tutti divas, Maria Callas. And, to the surprise of many, not the least myself, Faye Dunaway turned in a tour de force performance. Past the prime of her meteoric career, La Divina conducts a master class at Juilliard. She draws the audience in as student-participants, picking on front-row victims as a tiny little hors d’oeuvres before the real meal, when she devours three opera hopefuls. Two of them actually get to sing, quite wonderfully. But mostly they are foils for Callas, who drifts back into memories of splendor and pain — her debut at La Scala and her affair with Aristotle Onassis, for example.
Dunaway captured the regal bearing, the international panache and the dismissive, biting wit of the star. Backed by a magically, subtly transforming set and the glorious singing of the real diva, this production and performance were a joyous tribute to a life devoted to art and the importance of art in life…
In “Love! Valour! Compassion!” the characters are a lot less lofty, but the themes are as grand as the title. Eight gay men spend three summertime weekends together at a country home on a lake in upstate New York. We watch them sing and seethe, betray and be loyal, battle and reconcile. It’s a microcosm of ‘90s America, in the shadow of homophobia and AIDS. There’s plenty of nudity and affection, but no violence or sex. At bottom, this is not just a gay play. The issues of love, trust, friendship and honesty are ones we all have to deal with — just not with as much humor and flair as McNally characters.
What’s delectable about the Diversionary production, in addition to Michelle Riel’s highly imaginative set, and Sean Murray’s agile and inventive direction, is the fact that most of the cast just appeared at Diversionary in “Weldon Rising,” and the divergence of roles really highlights the actors’ versatility.
From one play to the next, Adam Edwards has moved from a sniveling wimp to a seductive Puerto Rican dancer. Robert Borzych has transformed himself from a hate-filled, homophobic killer to a gentle, hapless blind boy. J.D. Meier turns from a carefree, confident youth to an aging, stuttering choreographer. After wowing audiences as a pontificating drag queen, Duane Daniels has split himself in two, playing British twins, one cruel and caustic, the other sweet and fey and dying of AIDS.
Added to this tasty mix is Tim Irving, totally natural and hysterically funny, as a prancing musical-comedy devotee, and Dan Gruber & Joshua Harrell as the somewhat staid and monogamous married couple.
With a strong cast in a strong production, you barely notice that it’s 3+ hours long. Murray knows how to marshal perfect comic timing; the evening fairly flies by, and you’ll soar with it…
Now speaking of taking off, “Vigil” is about to. This is your last chance to catch one of the best performances of ‘96, back for an extended run. Ron Choularton is hilarious in the black comedy about a mousy government employee and his aging, ailing aunt, who, much to his dismay, refuses to die.
And also through this weekend only, that incredible rhythm sensation, “Stomp.” Don’t miss it this time.
Summer’s coming. Stay cool — go to the theatre.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.