|Love! Valour! Compassion!
LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! was Terrence McNally's 1995 award-winning
play about a group of seven gay male friends who spend several weekends
over one summer at the upstate New York home of a respected choreographer.
The 1997 feature film, directed by Joe Mantello who staged the original work,
reunited most of the Broadway cast. The glaring exception was Nathan Lane
who originated the role of Buzz, an HIV-positive musical theater queen. For
various reasons, Lane was unavailable when the movie was made and he was
replaced by Jason Alexander, who was perhaps best known as George from the
sitcom "SEINFELD." It's perhaps a tribute to Alexander and his capabilities that
he seamlessly fit into the ensemble of actors, although there were a few times
I felt he was pushing a bit too hard with the character.
Mantello made his feature film directing debut (and as of 2006, it remains
his only foray into movies) with LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! At the time,
his hiring made a great deal of sense. He had been intimately involved with
the project; indeed, he had filed a lawsuit in 1996 charging a Florida theater
company with appropriating his directorial ideas for the play in its staging.
The theater company agreed to pay Mantello a fee while the lawsuit was
dropped, but it raised the notion of protecting the work of a stage director.
Mantello's job as director of the feature film was aided greatly by
the casting of seven actors who originated their roles on stage. Stephen
Bogardus played Gregory, the organizer of the weekend getaways and the
owner of the home where the action unfolds. Gregory is an aging choreographer
struggling with a creative block. His lover is Bobby (Justin Kirk) who happens
to be blind. Their guests include Arthur and Perry (John Benjamin Hickey and
Stephen Spinella), an upper middle-class couple who have been together for
14 years, something which Perry points outs sardonically makes them "role
models." Also visiting are Buzz (Alexander), pianist-composer John Jeckyll
(John Glover), a bitter sort whom no one really likes, and his latest boyfriend
Ramon (Randy Becker), an ambitious dancer with a dangerous sexual allure.
Like the play, the action unfolds over three summer holiday weekends,
Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. The first leads to a betrayal, the
second to a new love (with the addition of Jeckyll's sweet identical twin James,
also played by Glover) and the third allows some matters to be resolved.
The film takes a while to kick in as the first half-hour or so is taken up with
exposition and introducing the various characters. McNally, who penned
the screenplay, also has retained a great deal of the witty banter that worked
well on stage. The actors all wear their roles like a second skin, with Glover
perhaps earning top kudos for his dual roles.
When I saw the play on Broadway (at that point Lane had left the cast
and was replaced by Mario Cantone), I wasn't quite sure what all the fuss was
about, particularly as it came on the heels of Tony Kushner's amazing two-part
ANGELS IN AMERICA. I suspect that those who watch the film may wonder
the same thing. It's a pleasant diversion that allows a group of seven actors
to strut their stuff, but LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! isn't exactly a
MPAA Rating: R for graphic nudity, some sexuality
and strong language
Running time: 108 mins.
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.