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The Dying Gaul

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 10/31/2001

The Dying Gaul

Craig Lucas

Craig Lucas' The Dying Gaul is a stirring psychological look at loss, and the Fells Point Corner Theatre has mounted a heartfelt production filled with fine performances. But FPCT runs smack-dab into the problem faced by every company that essays this play: a deeply troubling ending that seems to come out of nowhere. The theater attempts to address this problem by including in the playbill an afterword by Lucas that provides insight but, by doing so, ruins the surprise. Surprise, of course, isn't an end in of itself, but it might be best to wait until after the play to read Lucas' note so you can experience the climax without any preconceived notions.

The Dying Gaul centers on Robert, a struggling writer who has lost his lover to a long, gruesome battle with AIDS. Robert has written a screenplay about his experience; high-powered film producer Jeffrey wants to turn it into a movie, but only if Robert will make the screenplay's couple heterosexual. Robert not only caves, he has an affair with the married Jeffrey, while trying to work through the loss of his lover with his therapist, Foss. Jeffrey's wife, Elaine, figures out what's going on and endeavors to find out more about Robert by talking to him in online chat rooms, eventually posing as his dead lover.

To give the audience insight into Robert's mind and his complex relationships, Lucas uses conventions that would fall flat in the hands of a lesser writer. All the characters address the audience by speaking in a deeply philosophical manner that, while intriguing, is hardly natural--Robert, for one, constantly quotes Buddha. But Lucas pulls it off by making his characters so openly vulnerable and confused, drawing the audience inside their heads to the point at which walking into their deepest thoughts and feelings seems natural.

The play's ending shatters this illusion, and as good as the actors are, they fail to take advantage of what little room Lucas provides to prepare the audience for the sudden, stark climax. William Runnebaum is positively gripping as Robert, but where a gradual shift in tone over the course of the play could set the stage for Robert's final action, the actor simply seems to go numb. Similarly, Susan Scher fills Elaine with excitement and resolve as she enters Robert's online world and becomes his guardian angel, but her own final transformation seems false as well. Without the burden of making the ending work on their shoulders, Patrick Martyn and Stephen Antonsen give perhaps more complete renderings of the energetic, enraged Jeffrey and the compassionate but frustrated therapist.

Director Steve Goldklang keeps the action moving (no small feat considering how much of it involves characters typing away at computers) and the tension building as the various relationships grow more tangled, bringing out this engrossing drama's strengths. If the actors could find a way to sow the seeds for the ending throughout the play rather than simply submitting to it, they could turn this compelling production into an amazing theatrical event.

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