KPBS AIRDATE: September 12, 2003
Eight gay guys. Three summer weekends. Consider the possibilities. Playwright Terrence McNally did. And so did Diversionary Theatre. The Tony Award-winning “Love! Valour! Compassion!” was a rousing success for them in 1997, and it’s back, better than before, to inaugurate Diversionary’s 10th anniversary season. Some of the cast is intact, and all of the humor.
This is a high-octane ensemble, a potent chain of friends and lovers, enemies and adversaries, spending the summer holiday weekends together in a sprawling country home in upstate New York. It’s an artistic, urban group: a choreographer, costumer, dancer, lawyer, accountant, and a couple of Brits. Tim Irving recreated Sean Murray’s original staging, and Sean came in at the end to tighten it all up. The timing is impeccable and the cast is flawless. Every actor thoroughly captures and embraces these multi-faceted characters. Each one has a glorious moment of high emotion – and most get some pretty fabulous lines, thanks to McNally’s brilliant wit. Reprising their roles with incredible finesse are: Dan Gruber as a cynical attorney and Joshua Harrell as his strait-laced, long-term squeeze; and the uproarious Tim Irving as the musical theater queen who has a song or an arcane theater reference for every occasion. Oh yes, and he also, like one of the Brits, has AIDS.
The magnificent new additions are Manuel Fernandes as the owner of the house, a stuttering choreographer who may be losing his touch, and also his boyfriend, the blind naïf who’s not as innocent as he seems, convincingly played by Vincent Smetana; and Dennis J. Scott, deliciously two-sided as the good guy/bad guy Jekyll twins. And then there’s the adorable and irresistible Jeremiah Maestas, as the very young male dancer everyone (including the audience, male and female) drools over.
We witness a lot of coming together and falling apart. There are, admittedly, a few dated references; when the piece won the Tony for Best Play eight years ago, AIDS was newer, and more prominent in everyone’s mind. The incidence of the disease has waned and waxed again, so maybe the time is right for a revival. The dialogue still couldn’t be snappier, bitchier or funnier. It’s an evening wonderfully well spent hanging out with these guys. You may laugh till you cry. At some points, you may just cry. It’s a poignant, comic, hysterical trip… if you can be amused by eight clever, at times naked, men. Don’t be shy; everyone could use a booster shot of Love, Valour and Compassion.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.