BWW Review: LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! at Roxy's Downtown, East Coast Theatre is Now in Wichita!
Picture it: Wichita, 2019. No, I'm not referencing the Golden Girls. I'm simply talking about Roxy's current production of Love! Valour! Compassion! and the fact it took nearly twenty-one years for the show to be revived on a Wichita Stage. The last time the show was seen was in 1998 when Wichita Community Theatre presented the production, three years after the initial Broadway debut in 1995. Twenty-one years later and Wichita is finally ready, again! And the show is well worth the wait because now we have east coast style of theatre right here in the city of Wichita.
Similar to Fire Island in New York City, this show is a memoir and mirror of the crazy and wild summers spent two hours north of the city in an upstate, remote lake house inhabited by eight gay men. No matter what your sexuality is, you know right away from the start we are in for one heck of a night of love, valour, and compassion.
The show starts off with two men making out stage left. One blind, the other Puerto Rican. If that upsets you, this show is just not for you. Now, if you want more, there are plenty of ifs, ands, and even butts throughout the production. But this show is more than partial nudity. It's about body positivity, close-knit relationships, politics, healthcare, desire, infidelity, love of self, HIV awareness, and coming to terms with death. Running with two, ten-minute intermissions, the show runs for a length of about two and a half to three hours, yet again is worth the wait and every penny paid for the ticket price.
The cast, in order of appearance, includes Duane Ellis Jackson (Gregory Mitchell), Brad Thomison (Arthur Pape), Perry Sellars (John Keckeisen) Shaun-Michael Morse (John Jeckyll and James Jeckyll), Vivano Legorreta (Buzz Hauser), Seth Knowles (Bobby Brahms) and Lucas Styles Lowry (Ramón Fornos). All are well cast under the direction of artistic director Rick Bumgardner and all are wonderful in each of their roles. Jackson as Gregory Mitchell plays an older Broadway choreographer who owns the home. Jackson's dancing is spot-on and showcases his dance background. Opposite Jackson is Seth Knowles whose character is blind, even though he constantly seems to find himself in love triangles. Knowles is believable in his impediment making one never want to look away from his glazed eyes. As Puerto Rican dancer and lover boy is Lucas Styles Lowry, who has a satisfactory accent and body to match. John Keckeisen and Brad Thomison portray lovers Perry Sellars and Arthur Pape. Keckeisen is a pseudo narrator throughout the story whose delivery is appropriate and strong. Thomison, current owner of Wichita LGBT bar Club Boomerang, is the gentler lover of the two who gets wonderful dialogue such as quoting "I can't believe you lived through the sixties, Perry. We only read about them in Kansas and I'm less uptight than you."
It's Legorreta and Morse who truly shine. As music theatre enthusiast, Legoretta portrays Buzz Hauser with great ease while making allusions to Barbara Cook and Gertrude Lawrence. My guess is that Legoretta had to research these American Broadway actresses, being relatively young to their occupational prime, but this show was a venture, pushing any performer in the right direction. And if you go to just see Legoretta, you will fall in love just as equally with Shaun-Michael Morse's brilliant performance as both John and James Jeckyll, which I think in turn will earn him a Mary Jane Teall Nomination for best leading actor in a play or musical. Morse has several monologues; all are delivered with great fluidity and presence making him captivating to watch.
The set, designed by J Branson, was well used, efficient and innovative. My only reservations for this show came with the lighting and sound, designed by Scott Olney. At times the lighting felt a bit forced and could have been focused more to highlight specifically where to look during scenes and additional sound cues could have been utilized to help aid the silence. These are just knit-picky criticisms. Luckily, Bumgardner hires young artists as form of a learning ground at Roxy's to own and hone potential skills.
Love! Valour! Compassion! runs now and during the whole pride month of June, with some performances benefiting various LGBT Community organizations. Shows are Friday through Sunday, with varied times for Sunday performances. For accurate time and ticket information, visit www.roxysdowntown.com or by calling 316.265.4400 during normal business hours, Monday through Friday.