note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
Craig Lucas writes edgy plays like "Reckless" and "Prelude to A Kiss". If you're a Lucas fan (and I am) you'll find that "The Dying Gaul" is even more sardonic and quirky than his previous plays. You'll also find that the SpeakEasy production is so smart and savvy it could pick right up and move to Broadway. Eric Engel's cast soars --- even when Lucas' "internet drama" sails into cyberspace and we watch two characters "chat" on line, with their entire conversation projected onto a screen.
Robert has a script and the slick Hollywood producer who can make it happen for him wants to make it with him. They do, and Robert allows the producer to make sweeping changes in the script, against his better judgement ... against his moral judgement, too, selling out for the big bucks.
The producer has a wife who gets in on the action via the internet. She masquerades as a man on-line --- for some cybersex, some intrigue, and ultimately for some revenge. All of the characters operate on the premise, so boldly articulated by the producer: "You can do anything you want as long as you don't call it what it is." So the producer claims his empty big-budget movies "educate" the public; the writer calls his descent into very bad karma "enlightenment", and the wife calls larceny and deceit "an adventure".
None of these characters are paragons of virtue. The appeal of Lucas' play is that they all are human, even though they act inhumanely. Engel's cast embrace their flaws and give full, intriguing performances. Lyman even ennobles his sleazy producer character in a speech about society and taboos. Arnold gives a powerful performance as the innocent writer who embraces corruption with a vengeance. Melinda Lopez, too, manages to be funny and charming, even sympathetic, as she cheerfully strides into dangerous waters. "The Dying Gaul" has more twists and turns than kudzu, but watching it write to its horrific conclusion is riveting.
Susan Zeeman Rogers' set is steel grey minimal chic and John Malinowski's lights seem sinister when paired with J. Hagenbuckle's sound effects. Troy Siegfried's tony California costumes (especially for Miss Lopez) seem lifted from this month's Vogue: cold and elegant with nary a soft touch.