October 25, 2001

Adelaide Theatre

24 October, 2001
Murray Bramwell

The Dying Gaul
by Craig Lucas

State Theatre Company of South Australia,
Festival Centre Space, Adelaide, ends 10 November, 2001.

The Dying Gaul referred to in the title of State Theatre’s current production is an ancient Roman statue depicting a young, naked man from an opposing army, represented in all his vulnerable humanity. In Craig Lucas’s play-about-a-script, Robert is a screen writer who uses the Dying Gaul as a metaphor for a work of art that creates compassion even in enemies, thus breaking a cycle of vengeance and hatred.

For Robert, the Gaul is akin to the gay male, and the condition of HIV – and his no-compromise film script also represents the final collaboration with his partner – and literary agent – Malcolm, who has recently died of AIDS related illness. Then along comes Jeffrey, the bisexual LA movie exec, who not only offers Robert a million dollars to modify the script and change the dying Gaul to a woman, he also pursues him with such ardour that the young writer’s resolve begins to falter.

Featuring in Feast, Adelaide’s Lesbian and Gay Cultural Festival, this is the Australian premiere of Lucas’s 1998 play. But director Chris Drummond faces a daunting task with a text that takes such leaps and tangents that it is sometimes hard for his capable ensemble to stay on course.

The design by Bruce McKinven is Hollywood Roman in its black marbled expanse, a backcloth of ultra-cinemascope proportions serving as a screen for Mark Shelton’s mottled lighting and flickering chat room messages. It is an almost gothic decor – dead black flowers strewn to suggest the subtext of suicide – but also indicative of personal wealth, power and infinite possibility,.

As Jeffrey, David Field strongly encompasses these themes. In the opening scene he is Mephistopheles in Armani, tempting Robert, Faust in a t-shirt. Jonathan Speer works well as the ingenue Robert, liked by all, yet troubled by fears and intentions which are intercepted in cyberspace by Jeffrey’s wife, Elaine, played with admirable range by Lisa Hensley. Geoff Revell is also notable as Robert’s therapist, Foss.

Chris Drummond and State Theatre have produced good calibre work with this production but Craig Lucas has been thwarted by his ambitious task. The play’s last minute twist is too contrived – a view the playwright has angrily contested, but it is nonetheless true. The material is close to the author- his play is in part an account of his own grief for a lost partner- but it is unresolved and over-complicated. The result is neurotic and baffling as the characters’ various attempts at control plunge melodramatically into crime and revenge. And please, can there be a moratorium on plays using email chatrooms as soliloquy ? – it has so quickly become a cliché.

The Australian, October 25, 2001.

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