Craig Lucas looks at the current political moment, for stage and screen
Craig Lucas has a successful revival currently on Broadway, a new play opening up in January in New Haven, and is also making some news as a gay American as well.
Lucas’ “Reckless,” first performed in 1988, then crafted into a film, has been reborn as a Broadway smash hit staring Mary Louise Parker, Rosie Perez and Michael O’Keefe, which runs through December 19 at the Biltmore. Lucas is a prolific writer and performer and he has left a significant mark on the stage and screen with his plays including “Prelude to a Kiss” and “The Dying Gaul” and his screenplay for the film “Longtime Companion.”
Lucas’ love of theatrics was nurtured by his mother while he was growing up in Devon, Pennsylvania,
“I wrote and performed as a child, I loved theater,” he told Gay City News in a recent interview. “Then when I went to college, I majored in acting with a minor in creative writing. My earliest influences and interests were musical comedies and novels ––Mary Norris and Hugh Lofting and E. Nesbit, then Salinger and Isherwood. The first playwrights I fell in thrall of were Thornton Wilder, Eugene Ionesco, Beckett, then Guare and Lanford Wilson, then Strindberg and Chekhov and finally Shakespeare.”
The fact that Shakespeare comes last in the series of influences mirrors the way Lucas writes––his plays are wonderfully inside out and deeply emotional; definitely coming from a writer who has plumbed the depths of his own soul.
During his early years in New York, Lucas performed in many Broadway musicals.
“For the first ten years of my time in new York, I sang in the choruses, which paid for my psychoanalysis,” he confided. “Acting and psychoanalysis are both good training grounds for playwrights. If you know what you feel and what other actors, and to some extent, directors, do, writing plays is easier, more tangible. Acting is the essential art of theater, taking precedence over writing.”
This comes from a writer, which is a key to why Lucas’ work is so textured and rich for any performer.
The playwright’s current Broadway revival of “Reckless” showcases an unsettling and hilariously funny play that follows the peregrinations of a housewife, played by Mary Louise Parker, that include her giddy Christmas Eve rant, to the moment she climbs out the window after her husband has informed her that he has hired a hit man to kill her, that very night. She escapes in her nightie and it takes the rest of the play for her to win big bucks in a TV quiz show, find new friends and be reunited with her children. This all takes about two hours and covers 20 years. None of it is linear and all of it mirrors our desperate human search for connectivity.
“In a crazy world there is a way we confirm that life still makes sense,” Lucas explained. “There is an intricate course on which we all proceed, hopefully.”
Lucas has a way of priming an audience for deep emotion; he combines hilarious comedy with the sense of loss, uprootedness and ennui that affects many people––certainly, at the very least, in the Blue states today. Lucas’ difficult day November 2 ranged from global to personal. When Gay City reached him on his cell phone he was totally undone by personal betrayal that might resonate broadly.
“I had a horrible experience with my family about the election,” he explained. “My father has always been Republican since before I was born. I went to him in the spring and pleaded, saying, ‘You can’t vote for this man because he is against everything that I am. The constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is really against me and my partner.’ So he agreed to not vote. They wouldn’t vote. He and my stepmother promised not to vote and then they went ahead and voted anyway.”
“So basically my father and I are not speaking. He and my stepmother told me they agreed with me just to make me shut up. My friend Tony Kushner said, ‘Well, they are Republicans. They lie and they break promises—that is what they do.’ But what I see from all of this is that the gay community has learned that our feelings are just as important as mainstream feelings and that we not be marginalized by our families.”
“I say, take me as who I am, and not who you want me to be. My stepmother with whom I am very close, neither she nor my father is anti-gay but they are conservative. They support this horrible man. Lying and betrayal cut me the most. The fact is that we all didn’t kick and scream, ‘This is a coup’ when the first election went down and now look at where we are.”
The betrayal and the political outcome are having a profound influence on Lucas’ private life, of which he spoke very proudly in our conversation.
“ I have a great boyfriend, he is amazingly understanding, and kind,” he said. “We live sort of in the country, in the suburbs, on a little street off the Taconic. We have four acres, but I can see neighbors. It’s like John Cheever-land near Pawling. My boyfriend John McDermott and I have been together for six years. We met in Seattle. I was out there at The Seattle Repertory. He was the resident set designer. We had a long-distance relationship at first but then he moved out here. He is so well read, smart, private and a quiet person, so we are well matched because I am really a hermit my favorite thing to do is read and to be quiet.”
But this oasis in Cheever-land, at least the one just off the Taconic, might be facing disruption. Shortly after our conversation, Lucas told the Toronto Globe and Mail that he is planning to emigrate to Canada, because of the Bush re-election and the success of so many anti–gay marriage amendments.
“Our rights are slowly being eroded,” he told the newspaper. “It happened in Nazi Germany, the incredible brain drain of artists, scientists and writers who fled to the U.S. Now it’s happening here. The government wants gays to live outside the protection of the law.”
Lucas has also enfolded his current political thinking into the dramatic conceit of his new play, “The Singing Forest.”
“It is to a certain extent about now, about these times,” he said. “It is a play about a woman who survived the Anschluss—Hitler’s invasion and absorbing of Austria into the Third Reich. Freud is a character. There is a second time frame that is New York City today. The characters double in both time frames. It is a big canvas and three acts, a long play. We start performances in Long Warf Theater in New Haven, January 5.”
Lucas was forthright not only about his politics and his art in our conversation, but also about his relationship with his boyfriend John.
“We have an open marriage,” he said. “I love that. It is really helpful. I have never had that before. We are apart a lot. I didn’t want to be in position to betray him. I don’t like the idea of secrecy, all the extra drama. We had a couple of three-somes and that lead us to discuss what would it mean if either of us slept with other people. I don’t want another relationship. I have great sexual satisfaction with John. It is the strongest sexual relationship I have ever had because I don’t have to hold back. And although I am much less libidinous than I used to be, now at 53 I find with John I am where I want to be.”
Lucas has recently been directing movies, which he loves.
“I directed “The Dying Gaul” with Campbell Scott,” he said. “It was a great experience. I have been offered other movies and I am waiting to see what I am going to choose next. It should happen in winter or early spring.”
So we can look either to New Haven, Hollywood or Toronto to see what happens next in Craig Lucas’ life.