Craig Lucas’ taut and disturbing new drama “The Dying Gaul” goes for the throat with some raunchy dialogue as it examines the edgy relationship between wife and husband and his new boyfriend. An allegorical reference to the title’s Greek sculpture of a fallen warrior is dismissed early on.
When Robert (Tim Hopper), a young writer, attempts to market his screenplay, which chronicles the death from AIDS of his lover, an interested Hollywood producer, Jeffrey (Tony Goldwyn), finds the topic a hard sell and suggests a character gender change. Reluctant to change an autobiographical gay relationship into a heterosexual romance, Robert ultimately compromises his principles when he is seduced by the bisexual Jeffrey and lured by a million-dollar contract.
Jeffrey’s wife, Elaine (Linda Emond), is aware of her husband’s occasional male dalliances, and permits them to exist as long as they don’t threaten her marriage, family and security. Her curiosity about her husband’s new lover leads her to sexual chat rooms on the Internet, where she eventually hooks up with Robert. By devious and unscrupulous means, she obtains the confidential psychiatric history of both Robert and his deceased companion and agent, Malcolm. Under the pseudonym of Archangel, she assumes the spirit of Malcolm to taunt her rival, and plays mind games with the suicidal Robert in an attempt to define the passion missing in her own life.
Lucas’ darkest play to date, “The Dying Gaul” has none of the humor, romance or fairy-tale fantasy of “Prelude to a Kiss,” and is less muddled than the cyberspace maze “God’s Heart.” There are some excessively explicit passages between Jeffrey and Robert, and while Lucas injects some Buddhist philosophy in the mix, it all adds up to the familiar love-hate triangle with a touch of shock treatment.
The acting, especially by Emond as the sleuthing wife, is persuasive and honest. Emond manages to provide some of the urgency the text lacks. Hopper brings real sincerity to his role of the grieving screenwriter, and Goldwyn, as the shallow, philandering filmmaker, saves emotional pitch for a shattering finale. Robert Emmet Lunney completes the cast as a not too secure shrink.
Mark Brokaw’s staging is straightforward. Sliding panels for varying locales dominate a spare and uninteresting set.