There’s no getting around the fact that Love! Valour! Compassion! Terrence McNally’s 1994 Tony-winning dramedy, is beginning to show its age.
It was the talk of the town 24 years ago when it opened at the Manhattan Theater Club and promptly made the leap to Broadway. Although Angels in America had already made waves (it closed just three months prior to Love! Valour! Compassion!’s opening on Broadway), it was still a relatively taboo thing for such an overtly gay play to become both a critical smash and a hit at the box office. (The far less successful film adaptation would come two years later.)
And even if the play no longer feels like it crackles with modern urgency and that it doesn’t totally speak to—forgive me—the zeitgeist of this very moment the way that it did 24 years ago, Love! Valour! Compassion! remains a treasured contemporary work that is being given a worthy and totally absorbing revival at Zeitgeist Stage.
Set in 1994 at a semi-upstate New York country home, each act of the play takes place over three consecutive holiday weekends: Memorial Day, July Fourth, and Labor Day. The house belongs to Gregory (a genuine David Anderson), who is a choreographer nearing the end of his dancing career. His boyfriend of four years, Bobby, played with great gentility by Cody Sloan, is blind and is significantly younger than Gregory.
Also joining them are Perry and Arthur (played with sincerity by Joey C. Pelletier and Keith Foster), longtime boyfriends who hold good regular jobs and whose long-term relationship and reliable jobs set them apart from their other friends.
Many of the evening’s laughs—and there are many—belong to Buzz (an exquisitely funny Jeremy Johnson), a musical theater queen with a capital “Q” who claims to have been conceived after a performance of Wildcat, a notorious Broadway flop that marked Lucille Ball’s only Broadway appearance. But for all of his flamboyance, his shiny exterior begins to show some cracks as Buzz, who is HIV-positive, worries about when his time will come and who will be by his side when it does. (Thankfully, being HIV-positive is no longer a death sentence, and this is just one of the things that makes the play feel dated.)
Seeming to not quite gel with the rest of the group is John, a pompous Brit still bitter from his failed musical, and his new lover, Ramon (Michael J. Blunt), whose lasciviousness becomes a problem over the course of the summer. John’s brother, James (also HIV-positive), arrives later in the summer and quickly forms a bond with Buzz. Brooks Reeves, giving one of the best performances of the year, plays both John and James. (I dare you not to shed a tear during his third-act monologue.)
The play unfolds with the nonchalance of a long summer weekend (or, in this case, three of them) and is a rich study not only of friendship and love but of the cruelty of time and how—sickness or not—time rarely leaves any fruit on the tree.
Love! Valour! Compassion! suffers a bit from too much sentimentality—sentimentality that Miller’s production does not completely mitigate, though it can hardly be faulted for it. There is a great deal of heart that radiates from Miller’s affectionate revival and from the terrific ensemble of actors that make Love! Valour! Compassion! one of my favorite productions of the year.
LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! THROUGH 5.19 AT ZEITGEIST STAGE, 539 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. ZEITGEISTSTAGE.COM