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April 8, 2008

Theater: ‘Love! Valour! Compassion!’ is a multiple character treat

Love! Valour! Compassion: Photo courtesy of louisville repertory co. Ted Lesley (standing), J.C. Nixon, Bryce Woodard and Todd Ziegler star in Louisville Repertory Company’s production of “Love! Valour! Compassion!”(Louisville Repertory Company presents “Love! Valour! Compassion!” through April 13 at the MeX Theater. Directed by Amy Lewis. Call 584-7777 for tickets.)Imagine how you’d feel if it rained every holiday weekend this summer. Now imagine you’ve driven two hours to your friends’ lake house but you spent the weekend mostly cooped inside with your lover and six other people. You might get a little cranky. That’s basically what happens in Terence McNally’s multiple award-winning “Love! Valour! Compassion!” If you’ve only seen the lackluster film version (with Jason Alexander), you’re in for a treat. The play is obviously better. At more than three hours long, it elegantly draws you into the lives of a group of gay friends who gather each summer holiday.Host Gregory is a famous choreographer with a speech impediment. He communicates with his body instead and is working on a new dance piece he can’t seem to get right. He’s also dealing with aging and learning to accept the ravages to his body wrought by years of strenuous dancing. Bryce Woodard handles this well-drawn character with finesse, experiencing tenderness, jealousy and anger at the universe.J.C. Nixon plays Bobby, Gregory’s younger, blind lover. Englishman John, who is a failed musical theater composer, wonders what sort of statement a choreographer is making about his work by having a blind lover. John is a bad egg, unlike his twin brother (both played by Darren McGee). He can’t see they’re people in a relationship, not abstract entities making a statement.Rounding out the guest list are Ramon (John’s young boy toy), Buzz (a flamboyant costume designer), and a yuppie couple — attorney Perry and accountant Arthur. If this seems like a lot of characters to keep track of, it is. At times, some of the actors mixed up the names Saturday night, which was disconcerting, but not enough to spoil the show.Ostensibly, the play’s conflict is about Gregory trying to convince his friends to wear tutus and perform a dance from “Swan Lake” for an AIDS benefit. However, the play is really about issues of life and death, jealousy and human nature while mixing it up with wit as only gay men can do. All the actors are good, but as always there are standouts. Darren McGee gives a masterful performance as the twins, moving effortlessly between the polar opposite characters. He makes us feel a connection to both men because there’s a little bit of both in all of us. James Butterfield totally inhabits Buzz (played originally by Nathan Lane) as he peppers the conversation with Broadway musical trivia that will have you rolling in the aisle.The original script calls for the men to sing at various points in the play, beginning with “Beautiful Dreamer.” For whatever reason, director Amy Lewis decided to cut out the music. Oh well, the total, lengthy male nudity more than compensates for this lapse. Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com