One of the saddest myths of the current decade is that the AIDS crisis is over. The honest truth is there are still people who are contacting and dying from the disease. There are still people mourning those who have passed because of AIDS. I personally have lost friends from this terrible plague. There are many people in my generation who think that this is a problem of the past. In City Theatre Company’s current production Love! Valour! Compassion! By Terrance Mc Nally Director Matthew Burnett takes us on a journey through the lives and moments of a collection of friends in the height of the epidemic. Mr. Burnett who is only a couple of years older than me cannot have been effected by AIDS in the sense that those adult men of the 80’s and 90’s experienced it, however he has crafted a show that reflects a wisdom and sadness beyond his years. A large part of this is due to his cast of talented actors who at least half of lived through the years of death after death.
Speaking of Burnett’s cast they are an ensemble of talent on top of talent, starting with the host of the party Kirk Kelso. Mr. Kelso has been written about many times on this site he is a staple in the Austin Musical Theatre scene and a star in our eyes. That statement rings more than true with this production. Kelso who is known for his powerhouse voice, his comedic timing, and larger than life characters shows us a very different side of himself in this show (in more ways than one)! His portrayal of Gregory Mitchell and aging dancer and choreographer, who is moving out of the role of dancer and more into the role of choreographer, is one for the record book. Kelso gives a performance that is filled with angles and sides like a rubrics cube every side has a color and each is as vivid as the last. At his side is Ryan Wilson playing Bobby Brahms, the younger blind lover of Gregory (Kelso). Brahms performs superbly as a man without vision so much so that I had to ask if he was actually blind. In addition to creating a believably blind character Wilson’s performance is full of layers and sentimentality.
The next pair in this story is Dax Dobbs as Perry Sellars, a New York Attorney and Marco Bazan as his lover Arthur Pape, an accountant. Dobbs and Bazan work perfectly together as a couple of 14 years, they have a chemistry and familiarity that is rich and rings true. Dobbs as the hard nosed politically involved Sellars, is fierce and bold and yet gentle and suave when the script calls for it. Bazan while superb in his character which is complete and well thought does not come off as butch as the dialogue suggest.
Then we move into the singulars of this gaggle of queens, Rick Felkins as Buzz Hauser is a riot, giving the breath of fresh air in his moments of queenliness. Felkins’ is also seen a bit out of his usual element in this role, yet he pulls it off with flying colors (literally… you should see some of his costumes). Felkins’ portrayal of the musical theatre obsessed costume designer is full of vulnerability and presents a raw look at the delicate side of most gay men, even those who don’t want to be perceived as delicate. Newcomer Ty McLeod is gorgeous and perfect for his role of the spicy latin dish Ramon Fornos. McLeod gives a sexy and warm performance as the antagonist and support to this show.
Then there is Scott Poppaw in a double role as British Twins John and James Jeckyll, who has crafted two very different personalities who are each exactly what you would want. I left not liking John and loving James just as the story dictates. Each personality is vastly different and even though he at times is in one costume and portraying two characters you never forget which brother you are listening to. A stellar performance by one of Austin’s best actors.
Matthew Burnett as the director has done something that every director strives for, he has created a show that you don’t quickly forget. This morning on my drive to the office I was remembering parts of the show and coming to tears as I though of the struggles all of these men go through. This is a triumph of a show. The entire ensemble shines bright as one big constellation, a true collection of stars. This is a show that will go down in the record books as some of the best acting Austin has seen. Congratulations to the cast, crew and company, a true triumph of the ART that is theatre. I give this show a solid 5 out of 5 stars.
Love! Valour! Compassion! By Terrance McNally run through August 23, 2015 at The City Theatre. For more information log on to http://www.citytheatreaustin.org