A kiss before dying

Craig Lucas on Hollywood and hypocrisy.


Seattle Center, Intiman Theatre, 269-1900; $10-$42 Pay-what-you-can Thurs., July 26 7:30 p.m. Sun. and Tues.-Thurs.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 2 p.m. matinees Sat.-Sun. and on Wed., Aug. 15 Ends Sat., Aug. 18

PLAYWRIGHT CRAIG LUCAS is gracious and generous in person— he exudes a kind of benevolent self- confidence that sets you at ease—but, as in his art, he doesn’t equivocate. His career-long reflection on the unhappy truths that provide impediments to love continues unabated.

In The Dying Gaul, which opens this week at the Intiman Theatre, Robert, a young gay writer still recovering from the death of his partner, sells an elegiac screenplay to Hollywood and, dazed, allows it to be bastardized. A shockingly tragic tale filled with thorny pokes into loneliness, the Internet, and the crushing hypocrisy of the Dream Factory, the play shatters the relationships that develop between Robert; his seemingly soulless producer, Jeffrey; and Jeffrey’s trophy wife, Elaine.

Knowing that he has also grieved for a lover (who died in 1995) and roamed Tinseltown for years—writing the landmark AIDS drama Longtime Companion and the adaptation for the underrated Alec Baldwin/Meg Ryan screen version of his Prelude to a Kiss—you can’t help but wonder how much of Lucas’ life went into Dying.

Seattle Weekly: What on the whole have your experiences been like with Hollywood?

Craig Lucas: They’ve been very different. I’ve had nice experiences in the independent world. I did not have a nice time making Prelude to a Kiss. Fifty-two weeks of postproduction. They made us cut and recut and recut, and they said, “It’ll never make money.” But they wanted it to be Ghost, they wanted it to make $500 million, and it just was never going to be that. We used to have to fly out to the Canoga Park Mall, where they would show this fucking movie over and over again to these teenyboppers. I remember the thing that drove it home to me was some girl got up—[a] teenage girl—at the focus group afterwards, and she said, “It’s all right, it’s just . . . I mean, it’s so philosophical.” And I thought, “Oh, and that’s bad.” That’s what the studios are like. We’re speaking two different languages: I’m Lithuanian and they’re, you know, the Daughters of the American Revolution. [laughs]

There’s a lot of other stuff going on in The Dying Gaul, but there’s definitely a sense of you being very angry.

Well, the play is filled with a lot of anger; though last night, watching it in Bart’s [director Bartlett Sher] production, it mostly was filled with a lot of deep hurting and sorrow. Bart has not directed it as a scream of rage; he’s directed [it] more coolly like a tragedy. Elaine has entered into a bargain with a man [Jeffrey], a dishonest bargain, and she just feels so lonely. She and Robert are very similar in the sense that they’re both carrying around such tremendous amounts of incompletion, such emptiness. There’s just this strange place where they meet, if the play works properly. But everybody’s lying. Robert’s lying. She’s lying. Jeffrey’s lying. And those combined lies are what creates the tragedy.

How does a story like this come to you? Your own revenge fantasies?

Maybe, except I find Robert the least likeable person in the play, as one should. I was spending a lot of time online right before I wrote the play, and I was fascinated by that place where people were connecting, but you couldn’t see them and they couldn’t see you. At that time, in 1995, people were really having cybersex; it wasn’t like a dating service like you use to go meet somebody for coffee. And I was grieving, so I was spending a lot of time also in those grieving chat rooms, which were full of sex. And I realized I was using the computer like a drug, I was using sex like a drug. And what I was trying to do was to kill the pain. And I knew that somewhere in there was a play—that it was a big lie that AIDS had ennobled all of us, [that] we were better people for it. It’s that great American optimism, which is horseshit. And the play, in a way, is about that: The cost of that kind of suffering does not elevate people—it makes them smaller. Certain things are so dehumanizing that some people never, ever, get over it.