Lucas, Craig 1951–
Lucas, Craig 1951–
PERSONAL: Born April 30, 1951, in Atlanta, GA; son of Charles (a Federal Bureau of Investigation employee) and Eleanor (a painter; maiden name, Altmont) Lucas. Education: Boston University, B.A., 1973. Hobbies and other interests: Swimming, reading, cooking.
CAREER: Writer. Intiman Theatre, Seattle, WA, associate artistic director. Actor in stage productions; chorus singer in Broadway musicals, including Shenandoah, 1975, Rex, 1976, On the Twentieth Century, 1978, and Sweeney Todd, 1979. Playwright-in-residence, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 1998.
MEMBER: PEN, Amnesty International, Lamda Legal Defense League.
AWARDS, HONORS: Guggenheim fellowship, 1984; George and Elizabeth Marton Award for Playwriting, 1984, Los Angeles Drama Critics Award, 1985, and DramaLogue Award for best play, 1985, all for Blue Window; award for best musical from Burns Mantle Theatre Yearbook, 1987, for Three Postcards; Rockefeller Bellagio fellow, 1988; Rockefeller grant, 1988; Outer Critics Circle Award, Obie Award for best play from Village Voice, and Tony Award nomination for best play, all 1990, all for Prelude to a Kiss; Audience Award for best dramatic film, Sundance Film Festival, 1990, for Longtime Companion; Yaddo Colony fellow, 1994; member of Sundance Playwrights Retreat, 2000; Obie Award for direction, 2001, for Save or Destroyed; New York Film Critics' Circle Award for best screenplay, 2003, for The Secret Lives of Dentists; PEN/Laura Pels Foundation Award for mid-career playwrights, PEN American Center, 2003; Obie Award for best American play, Village Voice, 2004, for Small Tragedy; Obie Award nomination for best book of a musical, 2005, for The Light in the Piazza.
(With Stephen Sondheim) Marry Me a Little (one-act musical), 1980, produced Off-Broadway, 1981.
Missing Persons (two-act), produced Off-Off-Broadway, 1981.
Alec Wilder: Clues to a Life (two-act; adapted from Alec Wilder's book Letters I Never Mailed), produced Off-Broadway, 1982.
Reckless (two-act; also see below), produced Off-Broadway, 1983, revised version produced Off-Broadway, 1988.
Blue Window (one-act; also see below), produced Off-Broadway, 1984.
Prelude to a Kiss (two-act; produced 1988, revised version produced Off-Broadway, 1990), New American Library/Dutton (New York, NY), 1991, published as A Prelude to a Kiss and Other Plays (contains Missing Persons and Three Postcards), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2000.
Reckless [and] Blue Window: Two Plays, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1989; revived by Manhattan Theater Club at the Biltmore Theater (New York, NY), 2004.
Credo, produced in New York, NY, 1995.
God's Heart, produced in Providence, RI, at the Trinity Repertory Company, 1995; produced in New York, NY, at the Lincoln Center, 1997.
(With Craig Carnelia) Three Postcards (musical; produced in 1987), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1995.
What I Meant Was: New Plays and Selected One-Acts (contains The Dying Gaul, What I Meant Was, Unmemorable, Throwing Your Voice, Grief, The Boom Box, Bad Dream, If Columbus Does Not Figure In Your Travel Plans, Boyfriend Riff, Credo, God's Heart, and Drugs in America), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1999.
The Dying Gaul (also see below), produced in Glasgow, Scotland, 1998, produced Off-Broadway, 1998.
Strangers, produced Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theater, 2000.
(Director; coauthor with David Schuler) This Thing of Darkness, Atlantic Theater Company, 2002.
(With Adam Guettel) The Light in the Piazza (musical; based on the novel by Elizabeth Spencer), produced in Seattle, WA, at Intiman Theatre, 2003; produced in New York, NY, at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center, 2005.
Small Tragedy, produced by Playwrights Horizons in New York, 2004.
Miss Julie (adapted from the play by August Strind-berg), produced in New York, NY, at the Rattle-sticks Playwrights Theater, 2005.
Also author, with David Schulner, of play Savage Light. Author of musical, Queen.
(With Gerald Busby) Orpheus in Love (music composition; includes "Sleep Song," "Intentional Walk," and "Little Fingers"), 1990.
Longtime Companion (screenplay; adapted from his play), Samuel Goldwyn, 1990.
Prelude to a Kiss (screenplay; adapted from his play), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1992.
Bad Dream (radio play), WBAI, 1992.
Reckless (screenplay; adapted from his play), Samuel Goldwyn, 1995.
The Secret Lives of Dentists (screenplay, based on Jane Smiley's novella The Age of Grief), Ready Made Film, 2003.
Also author of screenplay adaptation of Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe.
ADAPTATIONS: Blue Window was filmed and broadcast on American Playhouse, PBS-TV, 1987.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Adapting The Nutcracker for the Turner Network; a theatrical adaptation of the film Don Juan DeMarco; an adaptation of The Mayor of Castro Street for HBO.
SIDELIGHTS: Craig Lucas has gained recognition as one of the American stage's more talented and refreshing writers of recent years. As Patti Capel Swartz wrote in Gay and Lesbian Literature, "AIDS has greatly affected Lucas's work and his life, infusing his work with the anguish of loss that comes from the deaths of friends and lovers…. Lucas puts himself on the line as an openly gay man whose social and political convictions are not separate from his vision as an artist."
Lucas studied theater and creative writing at Boston University, where he befriended poet Anne Sexton. Throughout the early 1970s Sexton served as Lucas's mentor, encouraging him to develop his talents as a playwright. At Sexton's recommendation, Lucas moved to New York City in 1973 and worked menial jobs while simultaneously performing as a chorus member in various Broadway productions, including the long-running musicals Shenandoah and On the Twentieth Century. Despite maintaining a hectic schedule, Lucas also managed to continue writing. In 1980, while Lucas was appearing in Stephen Sondheim's musical Sweeney Todd, a friend submitted one of his unfinished works to Norman Rene, artistic director of the Production Company, which performed Off-Off-Broadway. Rene was impressed with Lucas's play, and he agreed to produce it upon its completion.
Rene also asked Lucas to develop a modest production for the Production Company's after-hours cabaret. Lucas responded with Marry Me a Little, a two-performer work structured around various songs by Sondheim. This piece, which concerns two lonely apartment neighbors (who never meet), was praised by New York Times contributor John S. Wilson as "unusually moving."
In 1981 the Production Company presented Missing Persons, Lucas's play that had earlier impressed Norman Rene when he read it as a work in progress. Missing Persons is a grim comedy about an entomologist plagued by all manner of neuroses. Village Voice contributor Michael Feingold described the work as one of "wit, inventiveness, and … sharp-eyed honesty."
Dismayed by the generally lukewarm reception accorded Missing Persons, Lucas worked on only one more production, Alec Wilder: Clues to a Life, before withdrawing from playwriting for nearly a year. He then returned to the stage with Reckless, an offbeat comedy about a woman who eludes an assassin hired by her husband and enters a bizarre world in which the wholesome nature of bourgeois America is rendered pathetic and deranged. In this strange land, where every day is Christmas and all communities are named Springfield, the heroine is a contestant on a game show, observes two killings, and is eventually taken in by a doctor and his disabled wife. Writing in Contemporary Dramatists, Alan Strachan called Reckless "an unusual Christmas fable" that eventually leads to "self-discovery and maturity." Feingold, in a Village Voice review, noted that some portions of the play are "amusing" and some are "upsetting." In 1988 Lucas revised Reckless, stripping it of an espionage subplot and generally diminishing its wilder aspects. This new production readily gained recognition as a grim exposé of materialist, media-mad America, and inspired further consideration of Lucas as one of the American stage's more provocative writers.
Lucas realized his first substantial success as a playwright with Blue Window, about the banal, alienating nature of modern life. Here several individuals—including a lesbian couple, a composer, and a skydiving teacher—prepare for, attend, and then depart from a party. This seemingly uncomplicated work, which begins as a comedy, then shifts into uneasy drama before turning tragic, won praise as a subtle, incisive portrait of people failing to connect. New York critic John Simon deemed Lucas "a canny manipulator of words." Strachan described Blue Window as "a play of dazzling technical achievement … Blue Window combines social comedy with a melancholy substrain to potent effect."
The musical Three Postcards, Lucas's next work, also explores the mundane interactions of shallow, lonely people. The lone characters in the play, which is set in a trendy restaurant, are the house pianist, a waiter, and a trio of neurotic women customers. Throughout much of the play's brief duration—just under ninety minutes—the characters, in often spare, disconnected speech, reveal their boredom and isolation. Time contributor William A. Henry described Three Postcards as "poignant," and he acknowledged the work as one of "serene … simplicity."
Lucas next wrote Prelude to a Kiss, a dreamy, romantic play about a relationship that undergoes a rather extraordinary change. In this play two New Yorkers, Peter and Rita, meet and marry. Immediately Peter discerns some remarkable changes in his wife's behavior. He learns that she has somehow become trapped within the body of a mortally ill old man whom she kissed at her wedding. Although Rita's condition alters significantly, the husband continues to bestow his love and affection. "Love makes Peter resourceful enough to engineer a way by which to regain Rita's soul," wrote Strachan, "and the play ends with their reunion."
Prelude to A Kiss is probably Lucas's most acclaimed work. Clive Barnes, writing in the New York Post, found the play "unquestionably Lucas' most successful, tightly organized and best written," and New York Times contributor Frank Rich, who saw the play as indirectly about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), deemed it "a powerful, genuine fairy tale." The production won Outer Critics Circle and Obie awards for best play.
Although probably best known for his stage work, Lucas also won praise as the author of Longtime Companion, director Rene's film about a group of gay friends. The film begins in 1981 on the day when the New York Times first reported on the AIDS virus, which attacks the human immune system and leaves its victims susceptible to a variety of fatal diseases. The movie ends eight years later after several of the protagonists have succumbed to AIDS. In the film's most wrenching portions, a dying man is tended—fed, washed, and clothed—by his lover. By film's end, both men are among the AIDS dead.
Longtime Companion drew strongly favorable reviews. Rolling Stone contributor Peter Travers proclaimed it a "vital" work, and David Ansen, writing in Newsweek, deemed it "remarkable." Kevin Thomas, in a Los Angeles Times review, described it as "an illuminating, deeply moving experience." For Lucas, who had explained to Jan Hoffman in Village Voice that he longed to render homosexuals as "like everyone else," the film constituted a considerable success.
In 1995 Lucas's companion Tim Melester died from complications of AIDS. While caring for his friend during the final months of his decline, Craig experienced what he described to Sarah Schulman in American Theatre as "the humiliations and brutality of hospitals and people's disgust and dismissal" of AIDS victims. The pain of illness and loss, the unfair treatment by society, and the role of drugs in getting well and killing pain were all key components in Lucas's play God's Heart. In it, a well-to-do white couple, a crack dealer's lookout, and two lesbians—one of them terminally ill—meet in a common dream. "God's Heart is an outcry against the racial, class and gender division in American society, but the let's-pretend premise seems too farfetched for us to take its heartache entirely seriously," commented Lawson Taitte in the Dallas Morning News. A mixed reaction also came from Variety reviewer Robert L. Daniels, who applauded the "freshness and vitality" in God's Heart but found that the characters failed to "merge with clarity" in the "meandering" story.
Lucas remarked to Schulman, "none of the ugliness in the play could match some of the responses it received" from critics. He acknowledged that the play was full of weighty themes, and commented, "Trying to let all of these things steep and boil in one play did not allow me to write something elegant and neat. If I was going to call it God's Heart, it had to be big and uncontainable, messy and confusing and upsetting and also hopeful, with glimpses of luminous beauty. I wanted all the hope and dreams to match the frustrations and pain. I wanted people to think differently about drugs, about class, about computers. The play was meant to be ugly."
Stronger reviews came for The Dying Gaul, a play that revolved around a love triangle with a quirky twist. In it, Robert, a gay playwright, becomes romantically involved with bisexual film producer Jeffrey. Jeffrey is willing to produce Robert's play—as long as it is altered to feature heterosexual characters so that it will be more palatable to the general public. Jeffrey's wife Elaine has long known of and accepted her husband's dalliances, but something about his affair with Robert is more than she can tolerate. Using Internet chat rooms that she knows Robert frequents, she strikes up her own relationship with him under an assumed identity. The central theme, in the opinion of Boston Herald writer Terry Byrne, is "control and what that means to different people. The character who begins with the least amount of power, Elaine, the wife of a studio executive, ends up with the most power." Commenting on the use of the Internet as an important plot device, Buffalo News contributor Michael Kuchwara wrote, "In 'The Dying Gaul,' playwright Craig Lucas has taken one of the old-est stories in the book—the temptations of Tinseltown—and turned it into a cool and cerebral piece of cyber-sexual theater…. In an odd way, the computer becomes the play's fifth character, giving 'The Dying Gaul' a strange, haunting quality that glows stronger than any computer screen."
Strangers, Lucas's next play, opens on an airplane cruising from Philadelphia to Seattle. Hush, a middle-aged man, finds himself seated next to Linda, who chatters incessantly. Although Linda's talk at first seems very banal, over the course of their conversation she reveals a sordid life of drug abuse, cruelty, and exploitation. Hush's own strange past then comes out; he has spent fifteen years in prison for kidnapping a young woman and locking her in a box for months. "Hush and Linda exchange jazzy riffs…. [as] they try to determine who has acted more cruelly, and who is in greater need of redemption. A cloud of desperation and dread wafts over the stage," reported Brendan Lemon in Financial Times. Eventually, the characters end up in a remote cabin together for a strange denoument. Discussing the play with Schulman, Lucas stated that it is meant to explore the shame that remains and transforms the lives of those who have been punished or otherwise hurt. He remarked that in the play, he "tried finding a way into those ideas that didn't drive me (and the audience) away—opening the door gently enough and walking along the path with a measure of safety so that one would be too far down the path to be able to flee or deny what one was seeing and feeling."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 64, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.
Gay and Lesbian Literature, Volume 2, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Advocate, December 26, 1995, Emanuel Levy, review of Reckless, p. 56; May 27, 1997, Dick Scanlan, review of God's Heart, p. 89; July 7, 1998, Don Shewey, review of The Dying Gaul, p. 59; November 21, 2000, Don Shewey, review of Stranger, p. 96.
American Theatre, January, 2001, Sarah Schulman, "Eyes Wide Open," p. 36.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 14, 2000, Wendell Brock, review of The Dying Gaul, p. Q4.
Back Stage, November 27, 1992, Martin Schaeffer, review of Marry Me a Little, p. 44; January 1, 1993, Irene Backalenick, review of Orpheus in Love, p. 40; November 18, 1994, Jerry Tallmer, "Songwriter Craig Carnelia Delivers New 'Postcards,'" p. 13; February 10, 1995, William Stevenson, review of Missing Persons, p. 38; February 16, 1996, William Stevenson, "Craig Lucas: A New Partnership for a New 'Blue Window,'" p. 19, David Sheward, review of Blue Window, p. 48; April 11, 1997, David Sheward, review of God's Heart, p. 38; June 5, 1998, Irene Backalenick, review of The Dying Gaul, p. 40; November 17, 2000, Elias Stimac, review of Restless, p. 38.
Back Stage West, May 16, 1996, Matthew Surrence, review of Missing Persons, p. 11; December 19, 1996, Les Spindle, review of Blue Window, p. 10; October 1, 1998, Edward Shapiro, review of Blue Window, p. 13; October 29, 1998, Les Spindle, review of Reckless, p. 14.
Bomb, fall, 1996.
Boston Herald, April 14, 2000, Terry Byrne, review of The Dying Gaul, p. 8.
Buffalo News, February 13, 1996, Michael Kuchwara, review of Blue Window, p. E12; June 16, 1998, Michael Kuchwara, review of The Dying Gaul, p. C6; January 13, 1999, Terry Doran, review of Prelude to a Kiss, p. D8; May 12, 2000, Richard Huntington, review of The Dying Gaul, p. G25.
Christian Science Monitor, December 8, 1994, Frank Scheck, review of Three Postcards, p. 11.
Commonweal, February 12, 1993, Gerald Weales, review of Orpheus in Love, p. 16.
Contra Costa Times, October 7, 2000, Pat Craig, review of Prelude to a Kiss, p. D3; January 22, 2001, Pat Craig, review of Prelude to a Kiss, p. D3.
Dallas Morning News, December 15, 1996, Lawson Taitte, review of Reckless, p. C1; April 7, 1997, Lawson Taitte, review of God's Heart, p. A21; October 20, 1998, Lawson Taitte, review of The Dying Gaul, p. A23.
Denver Business Journal, September 29, 2000, Brad Smith, review of Missing Persons, p. 31A.
Entertainment Weekly, December 1, 1995, Bruce Fretts, review of Reckless, p. 50; May 17, 1996, Michael Sauter, review of Reckless, p. 71.
Films in Review, September-October, 1992, Maria Garcia, review of Prelude to a Kiss, p. 340.
Financial Times, October 18, 2000, Brendan Lemon, review of Stranger, p. 15.
Harper's Bazaar, August, 1992, Ross Wetzsteon, "Try a Little Tenderness," p. 40.
Houston Chronicle, October 18, 1999, Everett Evans, review of The Dying Gaul, p. 1.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 24, 2000, Jay Boyar, review of Prelude to a Kiss, p. K3452.
Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1990; June 5, 1990; February 27, 1994; December 20, 1996, Jana J. Monji, review of Blue Window, p. 6; March 9, 1999, T.H. McCulloh, review of Blue Window, p. 6.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 12, 2000, Damien Jaques, review of The Dying Gaul, p. 6.
National Review, August 17, 1992, John Simon, review of Prelude to a Kiss, p. 45.
New Leader, December 19, 1994, Stefan Kanfer, review of Three Postcards, p. 39.
New Republic, October 31, 1988, pp. 28-29; August 27, 1992, Stanley Kauffman, review of Prelude to a Kiss, p. 34; June 19, 1995, Robert Brustein, review of God's Heart, p. 33.
Newsweek, May 14, 1990; July 20, 1992, David Ansen, review of Prelude to a Kiss, p. 69.
New York, July 30, 1984, p. 53; October 10, 1988, pp. 75, 78; March 26, 1990, pp. 87-88; May 14, 1990, pp. 125-126; September 30, 1991, John Leonard, review of Longtime Companion, p. 64; January 4, 1993, John Simon, review of Orpheus in Love, p. 51; February 13, 1995, John Simon, review of Missing Persons, p. 103; June 22, 1998, John Simon, review of The Dying Gaul, p. 60; October 30, 2000, John Simon, review of Stranger, p. 97.
New Yorker, September 3, 1984, pp. 78, 80; October 10, 1988, p. 85; March 26, 1990, p. 74; July 27, 1992, Michael Sragow, review of Prelude to a Kiss, p. 55; February 19, 1996, John Simon, review of Blue Window, p. 61.
New York Post, May 15, 1987; September 26, 1988; March 15, 1990; May 2, 1990.
New York Times, November 2, 1980; May 21, 1981; June 3, 1984; May 15, 1987, p. C3; May 24, 1987; June 1, 1987, p. C16; September 26, 1988, pp. C19, C22; October 29, 1988; June 25, 1989; March 11, 1990; March 15, 1990, pp. C15, C18; March 18, 1990; May 2, 1990, p. C15; May 11, 1990; June 24, 1990, p. H1; November 17, 1994, Ben Brantley, review of Three Postcards, p. B3; February 2, 1995, Ben Brantley, review of Missing Persons, p. B3; November 17, 1995, Stephen Holden, review of Reckless, p. B3; February 7, 1996, Vincent Canby, review of Blue Window, p. B3; April 7, 1997, Ben Brantley, review of God's Heart, p. B2; June 8, 1997, Peter Marks, review of What I Meant Was: New Plays and Selected One-Acts, p. 16; June 21, 1998, Vincent Canby, review of The Dying Gaul, p. AR4; September 20, 1998, Steven Druk-man, review of The Dying Gaul, p. AR4; October 18, 2000, Ben Brantley, review of Stranger, p. E1; July 11, 2001, Bruce Weber, review of Blue Window, p. E1.
North American Review, March/April, 1996, review of God's Heart, pp. 44-48.
Observer (London, England), March 15, 1998, Nicky Agate, review of The Dying Gaul, p. 9.
People, July 27, 1992, Joanne Kaufman, review of Prelude to a Kiss, p. 16.
Rolling Stone, May 31, 1990.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 24, 1996, Ruth Stein, review of Missing Persons, p. E1; May 3, 1996, Steven Winn, review of Missing Persons, p. D5; June 13, 2001, Robert Hurwitt, review of The Dying Gaul, p. E4.
Sunday Times (London), March 23, 1998, Neil Cooper, review of The Dying Gaul, p. 20; March 29, 1998, John Peter, review of The Dying Gaul, p. 22.
Spectator, February 14, 1998, Sheridan Morley, review of Blue Window, p. 38.
Time, May 25, 1987, p. 71; July 20, 1992, Richard Corliss, review of Prelude to a Kiss, p. 78.
Variety, July 13, 1992, Todd McCarthy, review of Prelude to a Kiss, p. 41; November 21, 1994, Greg Evans, review of Three Postcards, p. 44; February 13, 1995, Greg Evans, review of Missing Persons, p. 58; May 15, 1995, Markland Taylor, review of God's Heart, p. 235; September 25, 1995, Leonard Klady, review of Reckless, p. 95; February 12, 1996, Jeremy Gerard, review of Blue Window, p. 92; April 14, 1997, Robert L. Daniels, review of God's Heart, p. 100; June 8, 1998, Robert L. Daniels, review of The Dying Gaul, p. 81; October 23, 2000, Charles Isherwood, review of Stranger, p. 59.
Village Voice, May 27, 1981; June 7, 1983; May 15, 1990; February 24, 1996.
Wall Street Journal, June 9, 1996, Donald Lyons, review of Blue Window, p. A12; June 3, 1998, Donald Lyons, review of The Dying Gaul, p. A16.
Washington Post, May 25, 1990; February 9, 2000, Lloyd Rose, review of The Dying Gaul, p. C1.
Stage & Screen, http://www.stagenscreen.com/ (September 26, 2001), Mark Glubke, "Meet Craig Lucas" (interview).
"Lucas, Craig 1951–." Concise Major 21st Century Writers. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/lucas-craig-1951
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