Craig Lucas' "The Dying Gaul" was one of the first plays to recognize the dramatic potential of the Internet -- a blank slate where one can pretend to be anyone, though not always without consequence. The Web is oddly suited to theater, where one can assume myriad personas, but like any human drama, life online can veer into tragedy. In "Gaul," Lucas has written a story of uncommon emotional depth and subtlety, a tale in which failed redemption curdles into revenge. Master Class Players' quietly terrific L.A. premiere production is bolstered by an excellent cast and Jon Lawrence Rivera's nuanced direction.

Craig Lucas’ “The Dying Gaul” was one of the first plays to recognize the dramatic potential of the Internet — a blank slate where one can pretend to be anyone, though not always without consequence. The Web is oddly suited to theater, where one can assume myriad personas, but like any human drama, life online can veer into tragedy. In “Gaul,” Lucas has written a story of uncommon emotional depth and subtlety, a tale in which failed redemption curdles into revenge. Master Class Players’ quietly terrific L.A. premiere production is bolstered by an excellent cast and Jon Lawrence Rivera’s nuanced direction.

A few months after his lover has died of AIDS-related tuberculosis, Robert (Patrick Hancock) finds himself in a moral quandary. He has written a script, “The Dying Gaul,” about his relationship, and studio exec Jeffrey (Ken Arquelio) wants to buy it. The catch is that the studio wants to turn the lovers in the script into a hetero couple. Robert finds this intolerable but gives in once he’s offered a million dollars. To his surprise, he begins an affair with bisexual Jeffrey. Meanwhile, Jeffrey’s wife Elaine (Mary-Ellen Loukas), who likes Robert, inserts herself into the situation by creating an Internet relationship with him, pretending to be the spirit of his deceased lover communicating with him through this new technology. When all the levels of deception are revealed to this trio, however, the results are more dire than they could imagine.

Hancock gives an estimable perf, alive and in the moment, a combination of vulnerability and self-defense, sweetness and sarcasm that takes a startling turn at the play’s conclusion, when Robert realizes by his actions what he really is. Arquelio is very strong as the smooth Jeffrey, who is more complicated than he initially appears. His low-key but inexorable manipulation of Robert at the story’s beginning is expertly played — one reasonable argument after another until Robert is in the proper cage. Loukas has the trickiest role, the third corner in this unconventional love triangle, the one who starts by doing something heinous but gradually tries to make it positive, and she pulls it off completely with a charming and sympathetic perf. Nick Salamone is fine as the increasingly agitated Foss.

Rivera keeps things balanced just right, not allowing the outlandish plot to devolve into farce or melodrama. A key piece of staging, in which Robert and Elaine are growing close while chatting on the Internet, has them sitting together, intimate yet isolated, and this works well.

Gary Lee Reed’s set is minimal but masterful — a series of sliding panels, a table, some chairs, a bench and a small garden — and Bonnie Bailey Reed’s perfectly chosen props (from clunky old-style cell phones to a elephant teapot) complete the scene. Kathi O’Donahue’s lighting is versatile and effective.

The Dying Gaul

Elephant Theater; 67 seats; $20 top

Production

A Master Class Players presentation of a play in two acts by Craig Lucas. Directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera.

Creative

Sets, Gary Lee Reed; lighting, Kathi O'Donahue; sound, Bob Blackburn; production stage manager, Elna Kordijan. Opened March 20, 2008, reviewed March 21; runs through April 19. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast

Robert - Patrick Hancock Jeffrey - Ken Arquelio Elaine - Mary-Ellen Loukas Foss - Nick Salamone
Want Entertainment News First? Sign up for Variety Alerts and Newsletters!
Post A Comment 0