by Anne Marie Donahue
Craig Lucas's "The Dying Gaul" is a deucedly galling play, confused, pretentious, and tedious almost beyond endurance.
Although the SpeakEasy Stage Company's production features some of the biggest names in small theater, the considerable talents of the cast and crew are sadly squandered on Lucas's pompous and incohesive script.
Set in Los Angeles in 1995, "The Dying Gaul" centers on a bereaved writer, Robert, who's penned a screenplay of the same name about a man with AIDS and his lover. In the opening scenes, Robert wrestles with his conscience as he considers the deal, offered by a film executive named Jeffrey, who promises him a million dollars if he will make his gay protagonists straight. Guiltily, Robert accepts both the deal and Jeffrey's sexual advances. Soon thereafter, Jeffrey's wife decides to get into the act. "I have to find some way in," Elaine announces in one of her many monologues, "a means to join in whatever it is they have or don't have."
The means she finds is Men4MenParkBench, and online sex room where she deceives Robert into revealing the name of his psychiatrist. Then, Elaine breaks into the shrink's office, photocopies Robert's therapy files, and uses the information they contain to persuade Robert that she's his dead lover, Malcolm, speaking via the internet from the sweet hereafter. The real-time e-mail exchanges, projected onto a scrim, slow the pace painfully in the latter part of the first act and become downright maddening in the second, which finally comes to a close after Elaine gets her horrible comeuppance.
Although Lucas provides a benign motive for Elaine's perfidy, it doesn't wash, and the motivations of the other key characters are only marginally more convincing. Moreover, the snippets of Buddhist wisdom that pepper the script can't begin to give depth or even a spiritual gloss to what is, in essence, a sordid and pointless tale of betrayal, casual adultery, and diabolical deceit
John Arnold is best in the scenes that showcase Robert's grief and confusion, but he's adrift when he shares the stage with Will Lyman as Jeffrey, who can't do much with the sentence fragments Lucas gives him for lines. True to form, the redoubtable Melinda Lopez is charming in the role of Elaine, but even she can't make sense of that cipher. The big mystery, however, is why Eric C. Engel agreed to direct "The Dying Gaul," a DOA play if ever there was one. .
***For Larry Stark's dissenting opinion, click here
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