Love! Valour! Compassion! | Stray Dog Theatre

Love-Valour-Compassion 75The shocking thing is the nudity didn’t feel gratuitous. It felt organic and was presented as such.

Love-Valour-Compassion 500

Stray Dog Theatre keeps its 11th season rolling with Terrance McNally’s iconic play, “Love! Valour! Compassion!” Set in the mid-90s, the play focuses on the lives of eight gay men who are dealing with the impact of HIV/AIDS, infidelity, and ultimately their own mortality.

Gregory (Zachary Stefaniak) serves as host to his group of friends who he invites to spend various Summer holidays at his lakehouse. The group includes: uptight Perry (Stephen Peirick), flamboyant Buzz (Patrick Kelly), butch Arthur (Jonathan Hey), twink Ramon (Chris Tipp), austere John / effeminate James (David Wassilak), and Gregory’s lover, Bobby, who is blind. While I have stereotyped each character, McNally does a brilliant job giving each character depth, humility, and authenticity.

This play does a wonderful job showcasing how the majority of us in the LGBT community form our own families that have nothing to do with bloodlines. These eight men depend on each other for support, love, affection, and discipline.

Another fantastic aspect of this play is how it transcends time. While it has its share of 90’s references, the dialogue still seems fresh and relevant.

First and foremost, I want to congratulate the entire cast on a job well done. This is a heavy play physically and emotionally. I applaud them for their bravery and spirit.

The ensemble cast works well with one another, but there were some performances that stood above the rest.

David Wassilak’s performance as brothers, John and James, was outstanding. Playing two roles in one production has to be challenging, but Wassilak made it look easy. I took note of how even his body language was different with each character. When he was playing John, he had an air of rigidity and emotional tension, but when he played James his movements were light and airy. I was able to get so lost in his performances that I almost forgot they were being played by the same person.

Patrick Kelly’s performance as Buzz also stood out among this talented cast. I want to call him a comedic ninja. He would wait for the perfect moment to deliver his hilarious one liners that had the crowd rolling with laughter. Serving as the main source of comedic relief, Kelly performance as Buzz is, well, fabulous.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Stephen Peirick’s solid performance as Perry. This is the character I identify with the most. It’s like I was watching a better looking and much thinner version of myself. Peirick gives a well-balanced presentation serving as narrator most of the show. Out of all the performances, I felt his was the most genuine.

The only performance I couldn’t get fully on board with was Chris Tipp as Ramon. The character of Ramon is supposed to represent the unbridled, raw sexuality of a Latino youth. I just didn’t get that from Tipp’s performance. I felt he rushed his lines, and his body movements were too stiff. While he is very attractive and physically stunning, his performance lacked sexual heat.

Director Gary F. Bell should be commended for a job well done. His direction of this play is masterful. Bell manages to keep the show running at a quick pace while allowing certain powerful moments to breathe and take the weight they deserve.

While I am not normally a fan of plays that have two intermissions, they are warranted for this production. The lives and story lines of these men are so complex that a two act play would limit their development. It’s a long play, but Bell manages to keep it moving and entertaining.

I also want to congratulate Justin Been as the sound designer/light operator. I enjoyed   the ambiance he provided with the sound effects and mood lighting.

One aspect I was pleasantly surprised with was the male nudity. Take note, this production is for mature audiences. I applaud each of the men for going the extra mile in their performances. The shocking thing is the nudity didn’t feel gratuitous. It felt organic and was presented as such.

I cannot remember the last time I have smiled and laughed this much during a play. This production is a must see.

It is a must see for those of us in the LGBT community to see how far we have come and how far we still need to go regarding the fight against HIV/AIDS. While we have won several battles against the disease the war still remains.

It is also a must see for theater goers who enjoy quality productions. This is one of those shows I would love to see over and over again.

Congratulations to the entire cast and crew of Stray Dog Theatre for creating such an outstanding production. | Jim Ryan

“Love! Valour! Compassion!” runs through June 28. Tickets cost $18 for students/seniors and $20 for adults. Visit http://www.straydogtheatre.org/ for more information. The venue is located at 2336 Tennessee Avenue.

You can follow me on Twitter @ReviewerJim

Photo: John Lamb

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