Low-key homo-tude

Love! Valour! Compassion!

Hey, maybe we <i>can</i> all just get along.

Hey, maybe we can all just get along.

Rated 4.0

Since Terrence McNally’s Love! Valour! Compassion! had its off-Broadway premiere in 1994, we’ve seen plenty of changes in treatment for people with HIV/AIDS—and changes in the numerous ways they survive and thrive. What hasn’t changed, though, is the way that relationships—between friends, relatives and lovers—twine, bind and unravel over time. That means that the play is dated only by a handful of jokes about the sexual orientation of the late JFK Jr.—now merely bad taste rather than overblown camp. The reality is that grief and love are fantastic themes upon which to build a play: The twinned emotions allow for laughter both easy and tearful.

Lambda Players’ production of Love! Valour! Compassion! is highlighted by a couple of standout performances. Of particular note is the understated approach that Arlon Carlson takes to the character of Buzz Hauser, the musical-obsessed, fey defender of all things sissy. Carlson doesn’t drop a bit of the character’s embrace of homo-tude, but he keeps it low-key. The result: Carlson earns his laughs because he’s funny rather than extorting them from stereotype.

The other top-notch turn comes from Shawn B. O’Neal in dual roles as twin brothers James “the Fair” and John “the Foul.” O’Neal has such a gift with expression and body language that the difference between the brothers is highlighted in an instant; he really doesn’t need the added costume cues to indicate which brother is onstage. His British accent could use a little work, but his gift for projecting character with physical markers more than makes up for it—and he manages to create a great deal of sympathy for John “the Foul,” as well.

As long-term partners Arthur and Perry, Corey Wilkerson and Dean Dowda are suitably enmeshed, with Perry taking a curmudgeonly tack to every plot twist. Wilkerson adds the voice of reason—as well as a long look at an extremely toned and lean middle-aged tush for those audience members whose delight in eye candy isn’t limited to the fulsome delights of the 20-something Ramon (Steve Lozano). Darryl Strohl exudes quiet angst as the sensitive, aging dancer Gregory, and John Garlock projects a bit too much innocence and vulnerability as Gregory’s blind lover, Bobby—it makes his betrayals, both large and small, less believable.

The spare stage is adaptable, if a bit drab, but that does allow for some flexibility in performance. And perhaps it’s for the best if the set leaves us nothing to distract from the emotional impact of the performances.