Love! Valour! Innovation!

Over the course of the summer, the friends and lovers drink good wine, eat rich food, listen to soothing music, lounge in the sun, and skinny-dip -- for the audience's pleasure or irritation, depending on the comfort level with naked male bodies on-stage. They also grapple with loyalty, longing, betrayal, disease, and death. By the end, some of them come to accept themselves; some don't.

A well-tuned ensemble illuminates these diverse personalities, with each actor distinguishing himself at moments throughout the evening. Particularly memorable are LeGette as Perry; Contini, who brings enraged humor and an edgy intensity to the role of Buzz; and Wright, who delivers a brilliant performance in the plum double role of twin brothers. Wright moves from John's calculated viciousness to James's genuine sweetness without skipping a beat.

An ambitious work that at times seems to be trying hard to say too much, L!V!C! is not a flawless play. For one thing, it goes on too long. As in his previous work, McNally doesn't restrain himself from pontificating in places. He allows his characters to indulge in lengthy explanations. The playwright also segues too blithely from moments of tension, like the death of a character's relative or the confession of an adulterous affair, into jokes. Yet when L!V!C! succeeds it verges on breaking new dramatic ground. For example, McNally tells each character's story through the seamless use of asides to the audience. He breathes new life into this cliched device -- which in a less capable writer's hands often seems clunky -- by assigning each character the job of narration at different times. In turn, director Yule handles the various monologues with a conductor's grace.

No one would dispute that L!V!C! addresses gay issues or that it, in part, celebrates the male body. Ultimately, however, the play's message transcends sexual orientation. In his compassionate depiction of a community of friends, each of whom has strengths and foibles, McNally offers a vision of humor, forgiveness, and unconditional love that has the capacity to nourish us all. Go, and be charmed.

Love! Valour! Compassion!
Written by Terrence McNally; directed by Bill Yule; with Louis Silvers, Shepard Koster, Wayne LeGette, Matthew Wright, George Contini, Christopher Carlysle, and Scott Ernst. Through October 13. Call 443-5909 for information or see "Calendar Listings.

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