It has stayed with me all week: ZEITGEIST Stage Company’s production of LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! A line of men in white tulle; they are performing “Swan Lake” in drag. It’s a scream–and heartrending. They are like angels appearing and disappearing, AIDS waiting in the wings, hovering over their lives, in the shadows of one summer in 1994. It’s a heartbreaker of a play, full of rage and mirth, sadness, and sarcasm, all of it affecting and brought vibrantly to life by an extraordinary ensemble of actors.
Terrence McNally’s play is a summer in three acts about eight gay men who gather at the upstate NY lakeside retreat of Gregory (the handsome, elegant David Anderson) a famous choreographer and his much younger lover Bobby (the charismatic Cody Sloan) who is also blind.
There’s John a dour, lonely Englishman (a caustic but vulnerable Brooks Reeves in a dual role, the other as his sweeter twin brother and beloved polar opposite, James). There’s Buzz, a flamboyant costume designer (a hilariously sarcastic Jeremy Johnson) who is true to his moniker and keeps the energy fizzy with a wise crack up each sleeve, and an encyclopedic memory of every musical ever staged which he references to punctuate every moment. Arthur and Perry are a mature couple, business types who are out of their depth around “the dance.” Keith Foster and Joey C. Pelletier are solid and endearing as a loving couple who gracefully weather the storms of familiarity. Ramon (a saucy Michael J. Blunt) is new to the group as John’s summer squeeze, a gifted dancer, and the first to doff his clothes.
It’s always a holiday– Memorial Day, the 4rth of July, Labor Day that brings them together and they come trailing their histories, alone, coupled, or navigating new relationships, all of them looking for solace and camaraderie. For this to work we must believe in the ties that bind and unbind them and this cast instantly conveys the affections, resentments, and complexities of their inner and outer lives.
Artistic Director David Miller has elicited fully inhabited performances from every actor, and a palpable connection among this ensemble. He has also delicately kept the tone of this play on track, as it rides a roller coaster of emotional, psychological, professional, and spiritual interactions around friendship and fidelity, life and death. We are laughing one minute, tearing up the next. We are utterly engaged in every individual, personal story, and then as the play drifts toward conclusion, we are lifted up and outward with a heightened sense our own mortality and soul-stirring perspective on the effect of compassion and love in the universe.
LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! requires as much from its cast and crew who rise wholehearted– and then some, to the occasion. Worth every second of its two hours and 50 minutes running time. Prepare to be moved. Through May 19! DO NOT MISS.