BWW Reviews: Stray Dog Theatre's Compelling and Poignant Production of LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION!
A lot happens over the course of the three acts that comprise playwright Terence McNally's work Love! Valour! Compassion!. What's particularly interesting is that way that he balances the funny moments that occur with the more poignant ones. There's no doubt that it's an important gay play, and yet, what I got out of the experience had nothing to do with homosexuality, but with the sheer humanity on display here. Stray Dog Theatre has assembled a talented and brave cast (there's a considerable amount of nudity) that really brings each of these characters to life in meaningful ways. This is powerful and compelling theatre that demands to be seen.
Eight men gather together to celebrate their shared friendships during three holiday weekends (Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day) at the lakeside country home of choreographer Gregory Mitchell. Alliances form, infidelities occur, and the mood often vacillates between the profound and the absurd. Most importantly, they each seem to grow emotionally as they confront the qualities that define their relationships, both to their partners and one another. And, it culminates in an amusing "drag ballet".
This is an excellent ensemble, and I was impressed with the way each actor approached these very different characters. Zachary Stefaniak is very good as Gregory, and you really get the sense that's he's struggling creatively with his work, and looking for some kind of inspirational breakthrough. Zach Wachter plays his blind lover Bobby with an interesting combination of indignation (over the way others tend to react to his lack of sight) and vulnerability. Jonathan Hey (Arthur Pape) and Stephen Peirick (Perry Sellars) do marvelous work as companions who, sometimes, seem ill-suited to one another due to their differing temperaments. But, beneath the surface tension is a deep bond that defines their relationship.
David Wassilak pulls double duty as British twins John and James Jeckyll, who are polar opposites with regards to their personalities. John is acerbic and ill-tempered, while James is truly a more gentle soul. Patrick Kelly plays costume designer and musical trivia expert Buzz Hauser with a puckish enthusiasm that's completely infectious. There's no denying the fact that the role is the most stereotypical one presented, but Kelly's energy really makes it work. Chris Tipp rounds out the cast as Ramon, a physically attractive dancer who arrives in the company of John. Though he may arrive at first as an outsider to this group, he does find his own place among them by the end.
Gary Bell's sensitive and expert direction focuses our attention on the interplay between these individuals, all of whom bring some type of "baggage" to the gatherings. Rob Lippert's scenic design lets nature act as an inviting backdrop to the open design of the house, and Tyler Duenow's lighting scheme neatly captures each change in atmosphere and mood.
Stray Dog Theatre has put together a wonderful production of Love! Valour! Compassion!. You'll fine yourself laughing heartily one moment, and moved to tears an instant later. This is truly what theatre is all about. Do yourself a favor and check out this exceptional presentation that runs through June 28, 2014. You won't be disappointed.