The sprawling, ambitious show takes place over three holiday weekends during a recent summer at the upstate New York home of one of the characters. Structurally and thematically, it expands upon McNally's 1991 Lips Together, Teeth Apart. In that two-act play set in a beach house on Fire Island over a Fourth of July weekend, two heterosexual couples confront desire and mortality over hamburgers and fireworks with standard McNally humor, insight, and talky self-explanation. (The beach house has been left to one of the characters by her brother, who died of AIDS).
In Love! Valour! Compassion! the two acts have been expanded to three; the four straight characters have become eight gay men; and the beach house has mutated into a rambling Victorian owned by Gregory, a famous choreographer in his forties facing a creative crisis and the physical consequences of aging that limit all dancers. The action unfolds over Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekends. Instead of alluding to a man's having died as a result of complications related to AIDS (Lips), Love! offers two men who are alive but suffering from the disease. As in Lips, and with a nod to Russian playwright Anton Chekhov's great comedy-dramas, the gathering of friends and lovers unleashes emotional upheaval, confrontation, and, ultimately, an affirmation of life and creativity, even as disappointment and loss make themselves abundantly clear.
McNally creates eight distinctly drawn individuals in Love! Valour! Compassion!, two of whom are twins played by the same actor (in this production, they're portrayed by the immensely capable and convincing Anthony Newfield, who strikes only one false note at the end of a complicated scene in which he's required to play both brothers on-stage at the same time). Equally accomplished, the rest of the ensemble includes Thomas Titone as Gregory; Robert Cary as his blind lover, Bobby; Michael Curry and Stephen Joseph as Arthur and Perry, a couple for fourteen years; Alex Montesino as the hunky dancer Ramon, whose youth and brazen sexuality threaten everyone else; and Kraig Swartz as Buzz in the role created on Broadway by the outrageously funny Nathan Lane and then inherited by stand-up comic Mario Cantone. With two hard acts to follow, Swartz interprets Buzz as slightly more cynical and less campy than did his New York predecessors, yet he delivers an affecting performance.
Michael Hall and set designer Tim Bennett do not reinvent the wheel here. The play remains remarkably faithful to the New York show, from the fluid pacing of the direction to the almost exact body types of the actors to the expressionistic set that magically suggests a house, its grounds, and a lake. In this case, however, rather than coming across as a failure of imagination, such allegiance to the original offers us more of a very good same thing.
The Pajama Game.
Book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell; lyrics and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross; directed by David Arisco; choreographed by Barbara Flaten; with Louis Silvers, Irene Adjan, Gary Marachek, and Charlene Clark. Through March 17. For information call 444-9293 or see "Calendar Listings."
Love! Valour! Compassion!
Written by Terrence McNally; directed by Michael Hall; with Thomas Titone, Michael Curry, Stephen Joseph, Anthony Newfield, Kraig Swartz, Robert Cary, and Alex Montesino. Through March 31. For information call 407-241-7432 or see "Calendar Listings.