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It seems right that Terrence McNally’s 1995 Tony winner Love! Valour! Compassion! is playing Studio Theatre just as Washington shucks off its winter coat and starts to warm up. The playabout the various couplings and uncouplings eight gay men survive over the Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekendsis a sweet and obvious summer drink that doesn’t have the substance to be taken as seriously as it would like. Still, even if McNally’s lazy text doesn’t completely satisfy, under John Going’s direction it at least goes down easily, which is no mean feat considering the pressures the director felt.
Besides the usual headaches (hundreds of elaborate sound and light cues)and even the more uncommon ones (like getting his seven actors to sing and dance for this nonmusical)Going also had a doozy of a migraine: Since the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers’ lawsuit against the Florida theater company that completely mimicked Joe Mantello’s original New York direction for L!V!C! is still pendingand since Going sits on the society’s board and believes Mantello wuz robbedGoing was hyperaware while staging his own version at Studio, the fear of aping L!V!C!’s first director, accidentally or otherwise, always on his mind.
“It’s a matter of protecting a director’s intellectual property,” he says. “But it’s a tricky thing, because ideas cannot be copyrighted, and I think that when a production is done in New Yorkparticularly if it’s a big, successful production like this wasit often becomes the flagship production, and when other people do it they can’t help but be influenced by that production. I mean, you’d be foolish to not be inspired by that production.”
Despite this worryand another unexpected one: the soon-to-be-released film version of L!V!C! affecting ticket salesGoing maintains that his recent stint at Studio was, for one very specific reason, pretty much smooth sailing from the start.
“The critical issue for me was to get a group of people together who could really meld and become an ensemble,” Going says. “The success of this play depends on the actors working well together, being generous to one another, not competing with one another, and just getting on. And as it turned out, this group was terrific. They just fell over each other. And thank God, because you can’t make that happen. That’s chemistry.”
Whatever it is, Going hopes it’ll happen again; up next for the director is another ensemble piece. This time, though, none of the characters will be taking off their clothes for some late-night skinny-dipping. Which is a shame, since that might be just the injection the play, Agatha Christie’s The Spider’s Web, needs to jazz it up for today’s audiences.Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa