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by Steve Desroches

The current production of Terrence McNally’s Love! Valour! Compassion! at the Provincetown Theater is early evidence that the Bradford Street performance space has finally found its voice. Provincetown demands a lot from its institutions, sometimes having oversized expectations for what is ultimately a small town with a short economic season. But we’re a small town with a lot to show and say. It’s in Provincetown’s DNA. And so it’s a dynamic mantra that the Provincetown Theater has adopted as it reminds audiences that this tiny spit of land way out in the North Atlantic is the birthplace of modern American theater. And with the current run of Love! Valour! Compassion! it’s evident that the Provincetown Theater is clearing its throat.

Set in the summer of 1994. Love! Valour! Compassion! tells the story of a group of gay men who assemble in rural upstate New York at a friend’s lake house each holiday weekend of the season, with Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekends the setting for each of the three acts. On its surface, and especially in Provincetown, the narrative is familiar; the concepts within the beautiful and honest script are universal, though told through a gay lens, something that still feels rare even as much as things have changed in theater at large. It’s a story of love and friendship set against a time of extraordinary pressure and pain for gay men during the height of the AIDS pandemic in America.

The ensemble tackles this deeply layered piece adeptly. Had anyone in the cast not done their job, their individual character could have been reduced to caricature, and in turn, thrown off their co-stars. But everyone does the heavy lifting required to make this production the success it is. Mark Boucher and Scott Douglas Cunningham present a fully realized, uptight yet relatable corporate couple in Arthur and Perry, while Tommy Walsh and Adam Ross as Bobby and Ramon give the story its generational anchor as the youngest characters in the play and perform with depth and thoughtfulness. And Peter Gregus shines as he portrays antithetical twins John and James, while David Drake creates a character that beautifully embodies love, valor, and compassion, presenting the soul of the story. Justin D. Quackenbush glitters in his performance as Buzz and rises to the challenge of a most challenging character. In lesser hands, the role of Buzz would be a cliché of stereotypes, but he breathes full life into the character, and if Love! Valour! Compassion! has a closed fist in the air against gay assimilation, it’s Buzz. Quackenbush is a joy to watch as is the subtle, yet most effective direction by Drake (also the artistic director of the theater) and assistant director Myra Slotnick. All the elements of this production align into a sharply focused production worthy of Provincetown’s theatrical legacy.

Love! Valour! Compassion! is performed at the Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St., Mondays through Thursdays until August 30 at 7:30 p.m. (no performance on Carnival Parade day Thursday, August 16, with an added show on Friday, August 17). Tickets ($40) are available at the theater’s box office, at their downtown box office at 230 Commercial St., and online at provincetowntheater.org. For more information call 508.487.7487.