PLAYWRIGHT Craig Lucas, who has written his share of screenplays, makes his film directorial debut in The Dying Gaul, a contemporary tale reminiscent of those past films about tragic figures bought and sold in Hollywood. Adapted by Lucas from his play of the same title, Peter Sarsgaard plays Robert, an aspiring Hollywood screenwriter whose personal life is spiraling downhill just as his professional life is on the way up.
Lucas’ many plays include Blue Window (produced in 1984), Prelude to a Kiss (1988), and Small Tragedy (2004), and his writing credits for films include Longtime Companion and The Secret Lives of Dentists. An admirer of Melville and Shakespeare, Lucas is known for the lyricism of his writing and for themes that challenge the viewer’s assumptions about how people should ideally behave and how they behave in real life. The Dying Gaul offers a case in point: Robert recently lost his longtime companion to AIDS and has written a screenplay called “The Dying Gaul” about their last days together. A Hollywood studio executive loves the script, but wants to change the dying man’s gender to female in order to make it more palatable to audiences in Bush’s America. After some reluctance, Robert gives in—and soon sells more than just his artistic integrity as he begins a sexual fling with the (married) studio exec.
On the day he was born, April 30, 1951, Lucas was abandoned in a car in Atlanta. At eight months he was adopted by a Pennsylvania couple. He started his theater career in acting, but when Stephen Sondheim told him he was a better writer than actor, he took the maestro’s advice. Since then, Lucas has written and directed plays for the stage as well as written for the big screen. His awards include the Obie Award for Small Tragedy, the PEN/Laurel Pels mid-career achievement award, Out Critics, L.A. Drama Critics, Dramalogue, Lambda Literary awards, and the Sundance Audience Award for Longtime Companion. He also won the Obie for his direction of Harry Kondoleon’s Saved or Destroyed.
I interviewed Lucas in two parts in early September by phone to New York, where he lives for part of the year. He also lives in Seattle, where he serves as associate artistic director of the Intiman Theater. Although he had a cough and was worried about friends affected by Hurricane Katrina, Lucas was gracious with his answers. — John Esther