Love! Valour! Compassion! is a delightful play by Terrence McNally brought to you by Vintage Theatre Productions. The story follows eight gay men and their experiences together over the course of three summer weekends (basically fabulous gay drama at its best). What's refreshing about this production is that the entire cast and the majority of the production crew are proud members of the Denver gay community - unlike the 1997 film adaptation, starring... Jason Alexander? Seriously?
The amazing cast includes Todd Black as professional choreographer Gregory, Chris Silberman as Gregory's younger lover Bobby, Charles Wingerter as Perry, Andy Anderson as Perry's partner Arthur, Keith Rabin Jr. as Ramon, Preston Lee Britton as Buzz, and Shane Delavan as at-odds twin brothers John and James.
Todd Black as the aging patriarch/matriarch is wonderful and a joy to watch on stage. Keith Rabin Jr. exudes a sexuality that is palpable; his portrayal of Ramon is heartfelt and provocative. Shane Delavan plays twins - acerbic John and AIDS-addled James - with pronounced delineation between the two characters so as not to be confusing to the audience and offers an emotionally stirring performance that shows the potential range of a true actor. Preston Lee Britton portrays HIV+ costume designer Buzz as the charismatic, tender character that he is, and it's hard to believe that Chris Silberman as legal assistant Bobby is not actually blind. His use of all other senses outside of vision makes his performance authentic and tangible, with an undertone of vulnerability. Charles Wingerter and Andy Anderson as yuppie long-time partners Perry and Arthur have an easy chemistry with one another. Director Bernie Cardell has a knack for tapping into the best Denver talent and building solid productions from the acting level up. He is to be praised for recognizing diverse talent when he sees it. The capable cast of this touching play supports a funny but difficult story that boldly traverses the multi-layered landscapes of friendship, commitment, sex, love, infidelity, flirtation, betrayal, illness, truth, identity and mortality. This is what ensemble theatre should look, sound, and feel like.
When you have a play that is chalk full of monologues, it's crucial that the set supports not only the words that are spoken, but also the manner in which those words are delivered. Jeramy Boik's stage is perfectly simple and utilitarian. It doesn't overpower the actors or distract from the story unfolding within its boundaries. The set mirrors the upstate New York locale, feeling very much felt like a Lincoln log construction set the way it was so efficiently disassembled and put back together again, making the scene changes seamless and fluid. My only criticism would be that I wish there were more music, especially since one of the characters plays the piano at various times throughout the show and Buzz has a thing for suddenly bursting into song.
Every monologue - delivered through the voices and gestures of this capable cast - has a way of drawing the audience further into the plot. The story arc matures from playful weekend to brotherly bonding, taking us along on the journey. As a pillar of gay theater since its debut in 1994, Love! Valour! Compassion! remains an important play for the gay community, because it is a reminder of the HIV/AIDS crisis that we still face to this very day. Only by talking about our personal experiences (as these characters do) can we, along with our straight allies and health advocates, continue to raise awareness about the very real health risks 21st century gay men continue to face.
You'll laugh, you'll cry, you will be mooned! Love! Valour! Compassion! is playing at Vintage Theatre now through Sept 18th. For tickets or information contact the box office at 303-839-1361 or visit them online at www.vintagetheatreproductions.com. *This production is for mature audiences.
Photo Credit: Ellen Nelson