Almost hidden away on a side street in Fort Lauderdale’s arts district is a play about friends coping with crisis.
Terrence McNally’s “Love! Valour! Compassion!” was written in the mid-1980s when the AIDS epidemic hit America hardest – particularly gay America. At times it can be confusing who is with who as eight friends meet at a New York lake house for three holiday weekends.
“I lived through this whole thing,” said Ted Dvoracek, a cast member in the Fort Lauderdale production. “I’m the oldest one in the cast. It was important to me to be a part of this because it’s a part of gay theatre history.”
Dvoracek plays Perry, a lawyer who has been with his partner Arthur (William Smith) for 14 years.
“We’re role models now,” Perry bemoans at one point in the play.
Dvoracek said his angry portrayal of Perry is how the character “dealt with not being able to face the horrific burials that were happening in the community. It’s in big contrast with what is going on now and I’m not sure the audience was prepared for such a serious piece.”
Audience members should be prepared for the full monty as most cast members eventually strip down to their birthday suits. Bryan Betancourt, who plays Ramone, a Puerto Rican hustler, told SFGN nudity was the easy part.
“To me it’s embarrassing, but to my character Ramone it’s just a part of the way he lives,” Betancourt said after last Friday night’s show. “He just doesn’t care. He has the body. He just wants to show everyone what he’s capable of doing. Personally, to some degree, I relate to Ramone because I love showing my body.”
Jerry Jensen directs performances. Jensen, who stage managed the recent production of “Hair” at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, said he was “stunned and enthralled” by McNally’s work in the spring of 1995 during the play’s Tony-winning run on Broadway.
“I could see a group of gay men relating to each other in all manifestations, sharing romance, anger, laughter, sex and difficult truths,” Jensen said. “These were men I knew, and here they were on stage, openly addressing questions of gay identity, self-esteem, the threat of AIDS and male love.”
Cast member Richard Weinstock, plays Gregory Mitchell, an aging professional and owner of the lake house where the men gather to share secrets. Weinstock said the older-younger relationship dynamic in McNally’s script is a reality not often discussed.
“As an aging gay man myself I can relate,” said Weinstock. “You see a lot of it out there. Older-younger relationships and there are realities to that. I often wonder, if there is a guy out in the audience who is in his forties or fifties and he’s dating a 20-year-old and if he looks at this and the reality hits.”
Rounding out the cast is Rosseroni Parris, Brett Watts and Jason Fazio. Andrews Living Arts Studio, managed by Bob Nation, houses this production. Ticket prices are $34.95 for general admission, $29.95 for seniors and $39.95 for premium seating.
If You Go
What: Love! Valour! Compassion!
Where: Andrews Living Arts Studio, 23 NW 5th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301.
When: Through Aug. 20, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays: 3 & 7 p.m.
More Info: AndrewsLivingArts.org