Love! Valour! Compassion! created such high feelings when it was first staged here in 1996, a year after it was on Broadway, the company had a very difficult time finding somewhere to house the production. (It ended up on a small stage at Webster University.) The play, about eight gay men at a summer house in upstate New York in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, was written by Terrence McNally. It's astounding how rapidly it's aged.
And yet the play is good, although there's another noun that should be included in the title: Temptation! Because much of the story has to do with temptation, feeling it, resisting it, succumbing to it, and dealing with the aftermath of those things. The house belongs to Gregory, here Zachary Stevaniak, a famed choreographer who's dealing with the lightfooted equivalent of writers' block. The holiday-weekend houseparties that happen over the course of a summer bring us the rest of the characters.
A long-term couple, played by Jonathan Hey and Stephen Peirick, a single musical-comedy fanboy schlub of a guy, Patrick Kelly, the ill-tempered composer/accompanist David Wassilak and his hot-body companion of the nonce, Chris Tip, and the composer's twin brother, who arrives mid-play - and who is played by Wassilak as well, arrive, as well as the dancer's boyfriend, the angelic Bobby, Zack Wachter.
It's an interesting group. Hey and Perick feel so much a long-married couple that to 2014 ears, hearing one of them refer to his husband seems utterly normal. Wassilak plays detestible beautifully, which makes his mirror image of a brother, a gentle Quentin Crisp, all the more vivid. There's a scene between the two of them that's remarkable. Tip, as the hot body, a dancer who must be putting up with Wassilak for proximity to Stefaniak's elegant choreographer, practically emits steam. Patrick Kelly's Buzz gets plenty of the laugh lines for those who know musical theater. The weak spot is Bobby-the-boyfriend. Bobby is blind and the portrayal is so delicate that it comes close to stereotype of the saintly handicapped person, if it were't for a bit of that previously mentioned temptation.
There's a scene that involves the lesions of Kaposi's sarcoma, one of the manifestations of AIDS, and quite a bit of discussion of doctors and availability of support services, reminders of the world when anteretroviral therapy was infancy. One wonders if a 20-year-old in the audience would fully grasp how bad things were at that time. A multilevel set of Rob Lippert works well despite the need for several bedrooms.
On opening night, there was considerable difficulty at times with hearing lines from a number of characters - sometimes enunciation, sometimes volume, sometimes laugh timing. This is a play with nudity and adult language, of course, so don't bring the kiddies.
Love! Valour! Compassion!
Stray Dog Theatre
Tower Grove Abbey
2336 Tennessee Ave.
Thurs-Sat. through June 28