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Love! Valour! Compassion!

Yep, they’re gay. That’s Jason Alexander of Seinfeld as one of the swans in a drag ballet. It’s a comic highlight of the witty and wrenching film version of Terrence McNally’s 1995 Tony winner. The play, directed by Joe Mantello, follows eight gay men during three summer weekends in the country. The movie, also directed by Mantello in a remarkably assured screen debut, features the same actors, with the exception of Alexander, in the role originated by Nathan Lane. The film is less raucous and more moving than its stage counterpart. Without the pressure of having to heighten laughs and emotions, the actors deepen their roles with the help of the camera’s subtle insinuation.

The Victorian house where these men spend Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day is owned by Gregory (Stephen Bogardus), a choreographer who fears aging. Gregory’s young lover, Bobby (Justin Kirk), is blind but not immune to Ramon (Randy Becker), the humpy dancer who is dating John (John Glover), a bitter British composer. Arthur (John Benjamin Hickey) and Perry (Stephen Spinella) have the steadiest relationship. The HIV-positive Buzz (Alexander) can’t get a fix on much besides show tunes until he finds love with James, John’s nicer identical twin. Glover plays both twins brilliantly.

In a first-rate cast, credit Alexander for expertly fusing slapstick (wait till you see him in heels and an apron) and pathos. AIDS is a fact of life, but Buzz fines his friends if they mention it. There is no hiding the sorrow at the core of this buoyant comedy. Still, in writing with rare humor and grace about the courage of love in trying times, McNally revels in its healing joy.


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