TAKING CARE OF MRS. CARROLL, Bailiwick Repertory. A lot of care has been taken with this warmhearted musical, drawn from the novel by the late gay writer Paul Monette. A tender portrait of reconciliation and forgiveness recalling Shakespeare’s late comedies, Martin Casella’s book chronicles the unfinished business that brings together lovers, an adopted child, and the friends of the title character. Trying to protect the late Mrs. Carroll’s estate are Madeleine, a movie star and former lover, Madeleine’s former lover (Mrs. Carroll’s groundskeeper), Madeleine’s gay manager, his former lover, and Tony, Mrs. Carroll’s estranged son.

David Zak’s textured staging weaves these characters into a strong circle of love. Though the plot doesn’t bear close examination–it includes the improbable hoodwinking of a lawyer–its truths lie deeper than probability. That’s where the 19 deft Sondheim-esque songs, by composer David Mettee and lyricist Georgia Holof, come in, amplifying a feeling or crystallizing a character’s discovery.

The five actors in this Bailiwick Pride ’97 production mesh as well as the characters do in the script. Rebecca Kolber brings grit and glamour to the movie queen, her flair contrasting with the down-home devotion of Paul Alessandro as the old flame. As old/new lovers, Gary McNulty and Darren Kuhn tread familiar ground freshly. And Eric Wallbruch brings immediacy to the potentially masochistic role of the lost son. –Lawrence Bommer