Love! Valour! Compassion!

Local Arts Reviews

Exhibitionism

Love! Valour! Compassion!:

Love Among Men

Zachary Scott Theatre Center Kleberg Stage, through April 27

Running Time: 3 hrs

It's been a while since I've experienced a three-hour theatre production. These are the shows you pray will be stellar; it's hard not to build resentment against the production otherwise, as your behind grows numb in your chair. But Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning Love! Valour! Compassion!, as produced by the Zachary Scott Theatre Center, captured every second of my attention, weaving themes of family and forgiveness into a moving experience I found hard to shake off after I left the theatre.

Love! Valour! Compassion! is the story of eight gay men, longtime friends and/or lovers, who gather in a country house in upstate New York over the course of three summer weekends. Their getaways are marked by highly emotional interactions, the kind that only a family can generate. Ugly arguments break out, after which bonds are reaffirmed; betrayals ensue, followed by forgiveness and retribution. By the end of the summer, these men's relationships have undergone a constellation of changes -- some for the better, some for the worse. As the audience bears witness to this intimate evolution, we seem to become part of it. By the end of the onstage journey, I felt as if I knew each man's heart and was personally invested in his fate.

Part of the magic in Zach Scott's production of this meaty script lies in the direction of Matt Lenz, whose credits include work on and off-Broadway, as well as in regional theatre. Lenz demonstrates a wonderful sense of balance in his direction of this play, emphasizing the hairpin turns of emotion inherent in McNally's group of characters, while taking time for sincerity to land when it surfaces. By coaxing out the humor when it's most needed, yet opening a clear path to the characters' pain and anger when it arises, Lenz creates a believable, engrossing show.

Lenz could have accomplished little of this, however, without the all-but-ideal cast assembled in the production. They are a deliciously varied array of talents, and each seems to disappear into his character here. As with the direction, balance seems to reign in the ensemble. Though each character is strikingly unique, no one personality takes up too much room; and there's a satisfying consistency in the group that's reminiscent of a close family that has been through it all together. Erik Parillo is especially stunning as twin brothers John and James, one black-hearted and the other lamblike; his performance culminates in a heart-rending scene between the two that seems to expand the definition of forgiveness. James Beaman, a New York cabaret artist and actor, lights up the stage as the tragic fool Buzz, HIV-positive at a time when AIDS was an immediate death sentence. And Robert Newell brings such straightforward honesty to the skeptical businessman Perry that at times it's hard to remember he's acting at all. Jackson Blaylock as Bobby, the divine Quincy Kuykendall as Gregory, David Stokey as Arthur, and Nicholas Rodriguez as the gorgeous Ramon round out the phenomenal cast.

There is a great deal of nudity in this show, none of which is gratuitous. It's a vital part of the passion and vulnerability that characterizes this group of friends. The characters in this play use their nakedness in so many ways -- as a weapon, as an apology, as a blessing, as a demonstration of unconditional love -- that it becomes as important as many of the words they speak to each other. A final example of the way in which, in Zach's production of McNally's beautiful play, nothing is wasted -- not a word, not a gesture, not a moment of the three-hour show.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Love! Valour! Compassion!, Terrence McNally, Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Matt Lenz, Erik Parillo, James Beaman, Robert Newell, Jackson Blaylock, Quincy Kuykendall, Nicholas Rodriguez, David Stokey

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