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Love! Valour! Compassion! – Terrence McNally

September 1, 2018

LVC 3The bitchiness reminds me of ‘The Boys in the Band’. However, Nobody whines and gnashes their teeth over being gay in the McNally version and the principals don’t spend two hours sniping away at each other. There is a brief moment when the young Ramon invokes The Boys In The Band by declaring that we don’t love each other because we don’t love ourselves and I think this was a deliberate nod. The big difference between the two shows, however, is the absence of all that self loathing in Crowley. If any of McNally’s characters, like John Jeckyll, are nasty or unhappy, being gay has nothing to do with it. It’s a look at love and life in the AIDS era.

The setting is at a lakeside summer vacation house in Dutchess County, two hours north of New York City where eight gay friends spend the three major holiday weekends of one summer together for Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. The house belongs to Gregory, a successful Broadway choreographer now approaching middle age, who fears he is losing his creativity; and his twenty-something lover, Bobby, a legal assistant who is blind. Each of the guests at their house is connected to Gregory’s work in one way or another – Arthur and longtime partner Perry are business consultants; John Jeckyll, a sour Englishman, is a dance accompanist; die-hard musical theatre fanatic Buzz Hauser is a costume designer and the most stereotypically gay man in the group. Only John’s summer lover, Ramon, and John’s twin brother James are outside the circle of friends. But Ramon is outgoing and eventually makes a place for himself in the group, and James is such a gentle soul that he is quickly welcomed.

Gregory (Stephen Bogardus), an aging dancer, narrates the history of his house, and we see a montage introducing his guests, a moving tale of diverse relationships unfolds.

Although they are more complicated and many-layered than the simple words might suggest, McNally declares his important themes in the very title of his play: Love! Valour! Compassion! Through the dialogue and action of the play, he explores the way these abstract ideas have very real impacts on the lives of his eight characters, and he suggests how they may impact all of us.

The first words of the play introduce one of its most important themes. “Um. I love my. Um. House,” Gregory stutters in the opening narration. He continues, explaining that he loves not only the house itself (the antique furniture and wallpaper, the lighted windows, and so forth) but also the happy memories it contains and the joyful times he continues to have there with his friends all around. Gregory’s house is a refuge of sorts from the rest of the world.

One of the unique and clever aspects of Love! Valour! Compassion! is its use of space and time. Although the play is set in a single location, Gregory’s country house in upstate New York, the action occurs in every room of the house and all over the grounds, and frequently the audience is presented with multiple scenes happening at the same time. By presenting the action of the play in this fashion, McNally is relying on a literary device known as juxtaposition to cleverly compare and contrast characters, dialogue, and themes. Juxtaposition occurs when two things are placed side by side, or over one another, and their important qualities are compared and contrasted.

Most of the characters are coupled: Gregory lives with the much younger Bobby, his attractive, blind lover; and John, a nasty Brit hated by everyone, arrives with his latest flame, a Hispanic hunk, Ramon, a not terribly educated dancer who projects overt sexuality no matter what he does or says. Longtime companions Arthur and Perry, an accountant and lawyer, respectively, represent the most “straight” — and a bit dull — gay yuppies in attendance; they find it “very stressful” to function as role models in the gay community. Presiding over the group with his sharp tongue and incessant humor is musical-comedy buff Buzz, a chubby, balding guy who’s HIV-positive. In one of many touching moments, the tearful Buzz asks Perry, his oldest friend, to vow that he will hold his hand when he dies.

LVC 2Not surprisingly, the two outsiders introduce tensions. Late one night, Ramon and Bobby engage in a sexual encounter that forces their respective partners to reassess their relationships. The arrival of James, who cannot be more different from his misanthropic twin, John, provides a new companion for Buzz and a chance for a reconciliation between the two siblings.

As the narrative unfolds, Mr. McNally’s characters not only talk directly to the audience, but they also comment on what the other characters are saying to the audience. They feed us facts they couldn’t possibly know at the time they reveal them. They see into the future to illuminate the past and to give the frequently rocky present added poignancy.

For all his freewheeling demeanor, it is Buzz who reveals surprising depths, entering into an unexpected relationship despite his fear of intimacy and further loss. It is Buzz, too, who asks the fraught question that’s always lurking there, for the eight friends and for all of us: “Who’s gonna be there for me when it’s my turn?’’

Would “Love! Valour! Compassion!” have the same impact if it were about heterosexuals instead of homosexuals? Of course not. Mr. McNally hasn’t written a play about gay people living straight lives. It’s a comedy about some comparatively privileged gay people in a world whose problems are ultimately shared by everyone.

The characters in Love! Valour! Compassion! may not be representative of “mainstream” America in the 1990s, but they face all of the same cultural and political events the rest of the country experienced in that decade, as well as some challenges and crises unique to the gay community. The 1990s in America were years dominated by the Bill Clinton presidency; a soaring economy; an amazing boom in electronics, computers, Internet communications, and commerce; a growing healthcare crisis; increasing acts of terrorism involving United States citizens and the military around the world; and high-profile acts of violence here at home, covered by television news that began to operate twenty-four hours a day.

For homosexuals in America, it was also a decade of important gains, controversial setbacks, and tremendous losses. For much of the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic was largely ignored by the federal government.

Is the nudity essential? Does it turn men into sex objects? Is it cheap exploitation?

History was made on May 1 when the Broadway revival of “Angels in America’’ earned a whopping 11 Tony Award nods, establishing Tony Kushner’s drama about AIDS and gay life in the 1980s as the new record-holder for the play with the most Tony nominations ever.

To get a sense of what a watershed moment that was, it’s worth reading Terrence McNally’s 2015 “Selected Works: A Memoir in Plays,’’ wherein McNally addresses the rampant homophobia in the world of theater — very much including critics — that forced prominent gay playwrights to conceal their sexuality for decades, limiting their subject matter in the process.

Then came Stonewall and the AIDS crisis, which McNally describes as both “a call to arms and an urgent, painful wake-up call to reality’’ that gave rise to “Angels in America,’’ “The Normal Heart,’’ and other dramas that put gay characters and concerns front and center. The result, in McNally’s view: “For the first time since ‘Death of a Salesman,’ it felt as if the theatre and real life in America were in conversation again.’’

McNally, of course, has made his own significant contributions to that conversation and to cultural consciousness regarding the lives of gay people. One of them is “Love! Valour! Compassion!’’, a sprawling, humane, and incisive 1994 play that is laced with both humor and sorrow.

Love! Valour! Compassion! won the 1995 Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for best Play, along with several other awards. McNally later adapted the script for the 1997 film of the same name.

LVCBuzz: I don’t date dancers. It’s very simple, I’ve made it a rule: Dancers don’t want to date me, so… f*** ’em!

Buzz: Just once I’d like to see a “West Side Story” where everybody gets it; the Jets and the Sharks, and Officer Krupke; or a “Sound of Music” where the entire Von Trapp family dies in a horrible alpine avalanche; or “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” where nothing happens, and it’s not funny.

James: I must say, for a young country you’ve turned out almost as many pooftahs in 2 centuries as we have in 20.

Arthur: You’re right, I’m butch; I can catch a ball, I genuinely like both my parents, and I hate opera. I don’t know why I bother being gay

Bobby Brahms: So, is he attractive?

Arthur Pape: I’m not supposed to notice these things, but I believe the word is “hot.”

John Jeckyll: [to his twin brother, James] There are so many things I’ve never said to you. Things we’ve never spoken about. I don’t want to wait until it’s too late to say them… I resent you. I resent everything about you. You had Mom and Dad’s unconditional love, now you have the world’s. How could I not envy that? I wish I could say it was because you’re so much better looking than me. No, the real pain is that it’s something so much harder to bear. You got the good soul; I got the bad one. Think about leaving me yours… So, what’s your secret? The secret to unconditional love, I’m not going to let you die with it.

Buzz: Just once I’d like to see a “West Side Story” where everybody gets it; the Jets and the Sharks, and Officer Krupke; or a “Sound of Music” where the entire Von Trapp family dies in a horrible alpine avalanche; or “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” where nothing happens, and it’s not funny.

James: I must say, for a young country you’ve turned out almost as many pooftahs in 2 centuries as we have in 20.

Arthur: What room are you in?

Buzz: The little horror under the eaves. I call it “The Patty Hearst Memorial Closet” [shrinking into chair in fear and dread]

 

Buzz Hauser: I have terrible news! THE FANTASTICKS is closing!

 

Buzz: Well, this tea is not doing it for me… [looking at James]  would you like real real drink? I know where they hide the hard liquor.

James: [thinking] An ice cold martini, very dry.

Buzz: Is that going to be good for you?

James: …Absolutely terrible.

 

Ramon Fornos: Fuck you, John.

Buzz: That’s right, sweetheart, you tell ‘im- fuck you, John!

John Jeckyll: Americans use that expression entirely too often.

All but John: Fuck you, John!

John Jeckyll: In England we think it nearly as often as you do, but you don’t actually say it to someone’s face- it would be too rude.

All but John: Fuuuuuck you.

John Jeckyll: What do you mean when you tell another person ‘fuck you?’

Ramon Fornos: Fuck you! And don’t you ever call me ‘chiquita’ again!

Buzz: This is good.

John Jeckyll: I think it means several things- mixed signals, I believe they call them in theraputic circles. ‘I hate you, get out of my life.’ At least ‘I hate you, get out of my life for the moment.’ ‘I love you, but you don’t love me.’ ‘I want to make you feel small and insignificant, the way you’ve made me feel.’ ‘I want to make you feel every terrible thing my life right up until this moment has made me feel.’

Ramon Fornos: I said fuck you!

John Jeckyll: Well I say fuck you right back. With every last fiber of my fading British being- every last ounce of my tobacco’d English breath. Fuck you Ramon. Fuck all of you. [stunned silence]  Well… I think I’ve said my piece.

ARTHUR: I guess you should know: there’s a rather obvious stain on your pajamas.

BOBBY: Thanks.

ARTHUR: I didn’t know I could still blush at my age. BOBBY: That’s okay. Your secret is safe with me. ARTHUR: So is yours.

BOBBY: I’m the one who should be blushing, only blind men don’t blush.

ARTHUR: That sounds like the title of one of Perry’s detective novels.

BOBBY: I had sort of an accident.

ARTHUR: What you had was a mortal sin. I hope you both did. You know what we used to call them back in Catholic boys’ school? Nocturnal emissions. It’s so much nicer than “wet dream.” It always made me think of Chopin. Nocturnal Emission in C-sharp Minor.

 

 

PERRY: Cunt! Goddamn cunt! Fuck you and your ultimate driving machine!

ARTHUR: Perry!

PERRY: Well, they are when they drive like that. ARTHUR: Don’t use that word.

PERRY: Men are cunts when they drive like that. Did you see how she just cut right in front of me?

BOBBY: Are you talking to me? Sorry, I was reading the life of Ray Charles. What happened?

PERRY: Some asshole-whore-cunt-bitch-dyke with New Jersey li­cense plates and Republican candidates on her bumper prac­tically took my fender off at seventy miles an hour.

BOBBY: It sounds like an extremely cuntlike maneuver, Batman. PERRY: You see? Boy Wonder agree with Bruce.

ARTHUR: I think you’re both disgusting. If I had any convictions I’d ask you to let me out right here.

PERRY: You have too many convictions:That’s your trouble. ARTHUR: Maybe you have too few and that’s yours.

PERRY: They’re just words. They don’t mean anything. ARTHUR: Can I quote him, Batboy?

PERRY: I was mad. Words only mean something if you say them when you’re not mad and mean them. I agree: “Nancy Rea­gan is a cunt” is an offensive remark.

BOBBY: I wouldn’t go that far, Bruce.

PERRY: But “Cunt!” when she grabs a cab in front of you after you’ve been waiting twenty minutes on a rainy night and she just pops out from Lutece is a justifiable emotional re­sponse to an enormous social injustice.

 

 

BOBBY: Who’s Gertrude Lawrence?

PERRY: A British actress.

GREGORY: She was. Urn. Gay, you know.

BUZZ: That’s not funny. Julie Andrews made a rotten film about her.

ARTHUR: Isn’t Julie Andrews gay?

BUZZ: I don’t know. She never fucked me. Don’t interrupt. Ger­trude Lawrence wasn’t an actress. She was a star. Hence, the rotten film, Star!, but don’t get me started on movies. Movies are for people who have to eat popcorn while the­y’re being entertained. Next question? Yes, you, at the end of the table with the lindenberry sorbet all over his face.

 

(We hear a door slam. ARTHUR isn’t coming back. Everyone reacts.)

I think the problem begins right here, the way we relate to one another as gay men.

JOHN: This is tired, Ramon. Very, very tired.

RAMON: I don’t think it is. We don’t love one another because we don’t love ourselves.

JOHN: Clichés! Clichés!

RAMON: Where is the love at this table? I want to see the love at this table.

 

I’m sick of straight people. Tell the truth, aren’t you? There’s too goddamn many of them. I was in the bank yesterday. They were everywhere. Writing checks, making deposits. Two of them were apply­ing for a mortgage. It was disgusting. They’re taking over. No one wants to talk about it, but it’s true.

 

ARTHUR: That asshole did. Don’t get me started again. He’s just lucky I’m a big queen.

PERRY: Don’t forget the left ear.

ARTHUR: And you’re really lucky I’m a big queen.

PERRY: One thing you’re not, Arthur, and never wilt be is a big queen.

ARTHUR: That asshole did. Don’t get me started again. He’s just lucky I’m a big queen.

PERRY: Don’t forget the left ear.

ARTHUR: And you’re really lucky I’m a big queen.

PERRY: One thing you’re not, Arthur, and never wilt be is a big queen.

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From → Drama, Film, Sexuality

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