Terrence McNally’s play arrives on Broadway with one major cast change but otherwise, “Love! Valour! Compassion!” makes a smooth transition from the Manhattan Theater Club, where it opened mostly to acclaim in November, to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theater. Produced under the reduced costs-reduced ticket prices Broadway Alliance plan, the play looks like an attractive box office player and a shoo-in for all the top awards nominations.
“Love!” is that rarity these days: a three-act play full of humor and pathos. It’s set over three summer holiday weekends at a country house in the exurban Dutchess County, N.Y., dacha of choreographer Gregory and his blind lover, Bobby (Justin Kirk).
They’re joined by two other gay couples: Arthur (John Benjamin Hickey) and Perry (Anthony Heald), who have been together for 14 years; along with John (John Glover, who in the later acts doubles as John’s twin, James), an unlikable expatriate Brit who wrote a flop musical and now is Gregory’s rehearsal pianist, and John’s boy toy, Ramon (Randy Becker), a predatory Puerto Rican-born dancer.
But the linchpin of the group, its resident wit and gadfly, is Gregory’s costumier Buzz (Nathan Lane), an AIDS sufferer and activist, not to mention repository of scads of musical theater arcana, who mourns the death of Broadway and its stars nearly as deeply as he mourns the death of nearly everyone around him.
“Love!” flows with heartfelt writing and becomes quite moving in the relationship that develops between Buzz and the “good” twin, James. It’s also very funny, due mostly to Lane, who delivers venerable comic shtick with utter freshness, authority and conviction. He’s by no means alone in praiseworthiness. The ensemble is altogether winning, and if Anthony Heald — like Lane, an old McNally hand — lacks some of the fine shading brought to the role originally by Stephen Spinella, it hardly will be noticeable to the play’s newcomers.
As it was at the smaller City Center, the play has been staged with elegiac tenderness by Joe Mantello, who last appeared on this same stage as Louis Ironson in “Angels in America.” But good as it is, “Love! Valour! Compassion!” is no “Angels in America” and the differences are even more striking now: Where “Angels” took in a whole world — indeed several worlds, real and imagined, political, sexual, religious and social –“Love!” is self-referential and cramped, and flirts with being maudlin. Suffused with sadness and death along with the laughs, it’s occasionally tasteless and the flaunted nudity may prove to be a major turnoff to a part of the aud, straight and gay, the play will need to attract if it is to have a long run.
Even if Broadway weren’t such parched territory for new plays, “Love! Valour! Compassion!” would be an outstanding entry. The sense of loss it summons is heartbreaking.