Play: Love! Valour! Compassion!
Group: Citilites Theatre
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: January 14, 15, 16, 17
Tickets: From $15 to $20; contact 314-773-1879 or www.brownpapertickets.com
Story: Gregory, a successful Broadway dancer/choreographer, has invited several gay friends to spend the Memorial Day weekend with him and his lover, Bobby, at Gregory’s vacation home in Dutchess County north of New York City. Guests include his business consultants, Perry and Arthur; Buzz, a flamboyant costume designer; dance accompanist John, an acerbic Englishman, and his young lover, a dancer named Ramon; and John’s gentle twin brother, James, who joins the group for subsequent holiday outings that summer on the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
During the course of this mid-‘90s summer the gay octet deal with infidelities, the haunting specter of AIDS, emotional and physical challenges and the changing dynamics of their relationships, both as a group and individuals.
Highlights: Citilites Theatre is back after a 13-year hiatus with Terrence McNally’s three-hour, three-act drama that won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1994. Artistic director GP Hunsaker and associate artistic director Michael Brightman, who were instrumental with Citilites along with Matt and Mary Caulley in its initial incarnation in the early ‘90s, have joined forces with the Caulleys and managing director Seth Ward Pyatt for this resurgent version, with Hunsaker directing a cast of seven players in the group’s 2010 inaugural effort.
Other Info: While the return of a professional theater is most welcome news, this particular effort lacks vitality for the most part, and that’s unfortunate. Part of that is the result of the playwright’s framework of three distinct acts that more or less are repetitive by their nature. Also, nothing ‘huge’ happens dramatically, despite the ‘heavy’ themes of the script, as the episodic elements in McNally’s drama are more static riveting theater, at least under Hunsaker’s somewhat stolid direction.
Gary Cox more or less serves as the primary narrator for the goings-on as Perry, a lawyer by training and partner for 14 years with Arthur, whose genial, carefully calibrated nature meshes well with his accounting avocation. Cox shows us Perry’s fits of anger and volatility in suitable fashion, while Ken Haller nicely handles Arthur’s more laid-back personality.
Pyatt has a grand time as Buzz, who does his best to mask his vulnerabilities and the news of his own impending AIDS diagnosis with a rapid succession of one-liners as well as a blooming romance with the gravely ill James. Jeffery P. Breckel contrasts twin brothers James and John effectively, demonstrating John’s surly temperament as well as James’ kinder, gentler demeanor. Keith Parker and Antonio Rodriguez are earnest in their efforts as blind legal assistant Bobby and rising young dance phenom Ramon.
Gene Weber’s functional set design provides the barest of backdrops for the players and doesn’t do much to convey the most likely posh look of a summer vacation getaway, with Pyatt providing mainly perfunctory lighting. Russell Bettlach’s costumes are a highlight as they effectively reflect the ages and personalities of the various characters, with Christine Mosley credited for “tutu design and construction” for the work’s balletic finale, and Breckel provides accompanying sound design. Cindy Duggan’s choreography is simple but serviceable.
While it’s great to see the dedication and devotion required to successfully resuscitate a theater troupe, and while opening weekend attendance was healthy, this lackluster Love! Valour! Compassion! simply doesn’t equal the sum of its parts.
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.