Queens and their quirks
Love! Valor! Compassion! takes gay stereotypes almost to the point of cliché but still comes up a winner
I usually plan to go to plays and movies several days ahead of time, so that by the time I am in the theater waiting to be delivered into another world, I have forgotten what I’m going to see. And I don’t try to remember. My future for the next few hours is precarious. I like this feeling. I have no idea where I’ll go. When the play or film begins, it’s always a shock: an abrupt entrance into somebody’s life that has previously been ignored or overlooked.
This shock has never been quite so great as when I went to see Reno Riverfront Theatre’s production of Love! Valor! Compassion! on a tepid Sunday afternoon with my mom.
The play, directed by Jim Bernardi, began with two gay men, the blind Bobby Brahms (Bob Barsanti) and the horny Puerto Rican stud, Ramon Fornos (Doug Milliron), making love, actually something more akin to lust, in a summerhouse belonging to Bobby’s boyfriend, Gregory Mitchell (Hal DuBiel). As Bobby and Ramon kissed, caressed, buried their faces in each other’s neck napes and engaged in a whole lot of butt-grabbing, the audience was markedly still. “Whoa,” I thought, “Where am I going? Oh yeah, this is a gay play.”
I think a play can be focused around homosexuals and not be considered gay. Victor, Victoria comes to mind, a play that makes it easy for audience members to relate to the friendships, to the love story and to the search for identity. Love, on the other hand, takes every stereotype and truism about homosexual life and does it to the verge of cliché. It’s about eight bitchy, pleasure-oriented men who lead materialistic lives focused on base senses and emotions and who each embody a different color on the gay spectrum (that is, if you include the six accepted colors plus indigo and violet).
Fortunately, the actors did an exceptional job developing these characters. The most noticeable was Buzz Hauser (Lynden R. Noe). The role of Buzz was originally created for Nathan Lane, but Noe did the flamboyant part justice. Buzz is the self-proclaimed love child of Judy Garland and Liberace. He is the Queen of Sarcasm and has AIDS. Noe’s Buzz was bitingly caustic and, at the same time, warranted our most sincere sympathies.
My favorite character, although surly and disaffected, was John Jekyll (Tony DeGeiso), a washed-up Broadway composer. Even though the script didn’t elicit sympathy for John, the character won me over thanks to DeGeiso’s performance. John’s coldness and aloofness were tempered by DeGeiso’s sophistication and humility. DeGeiso also played John’s twin brother, James Jeckyll (interesting namesake), the antithesis of John. This character was irritating mainly because of the exaggerated voice change made by DeGeiso.
Arthur Pape (Bradford Ka’ai’ai) and Perry Sellars (Tyler Dean) were the longtime stable gay couple and were very cute. I enjoyed a scene where Arthur trimmed Perry’s ear hair.
Love! Valor! Compassion! will probably make some people uncomfortable (watch out for the nudity), but if they can brave the first few minutes, they’ll be fine. The play’s finale is touching and laugh-out-loud funny. The only reason I won’t give it the highest rating possible is because of quite a few missed or misspoken lines and a lagging second act. Although it never attempts to be universally accessible or profound, it is a great gay play.