'Dying Gaul' presents realistic point of view

Maybe it's human nature to believe that no matter how bad things get, the force of hope, time's passage or some higher power will clear the fog.

Part of what makes "The Dying Gaul" so compelling is that it denies that belief. University Theatre is staging the Craig Lucas drama through Sunday at the Inge Theatre.

Director Jennifer Fletcher has assembled a student cast that expertly carries off the dark story, which follows Robert (Matt Greer), a Los Angeles writer who has crafted a screenplay about watching his lover suffer with and finally die from AIDS. Jeffrey (Phillip Vocasek), a high-powered movie mogul, wants to turn the script, also called "The Dying Gaul," into a movie, but only if Robert agrees to rewrite one of the male characters as female, making it a heterosexual romance.

Not only does Robert compromise his principles and grudgingly agree, but he also has an affair with Jeffrey, who's married and has two children. Jeffrey's wife, Elaine (Adrienne Lamping), uncovers the affair and begins engaging Robert in an online chat room, where she eventually pretends to be his dead lover. Also present is Foss (Evan Grosshans), the psychiatrist who counsels Robert through his grief.

Spoken Buddhist principles become plot devices that structure Robert's actions, and it seems as though he might be healing. But phrases like "He learns from his suffering to reduce and finally eliminate its cause" take on twisted meanings as his anger boils over.

Greer convincingly portrays a grieving lover, torn between his values and his immediate need to make money. His performance only builds in power and authenticity as his world breaks apart.

Lamping delivers an equally impressive performance as the scorned wife, desperately searching for insight into her husband's mind. She and Greer exhibit excellent chemistry during the chat room scenes.

Vocasek looms large and charismatic on the stage. He makes it easy to dislike his arrogant, money-hungry character. And Grosshans seems to fit comfortably into the uptight shoes of Robert's psychiatrist.

"The Dying Gaul" continues at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Inge Theatre in Murphy Hall. The play contains adult language and content.

Several creative conventions add depth to the action. During one of Robert's sessions with his psychiatrist, Jeffrey intervenes as a part of Robert's psyche. And when Robert and Elaine log into the chat room, the other actors hiss salacious comments from off-stage, recreating the lusty online environment for the audience.

In the end, "The Dying Gaul" has little to do with hope. But it gets hauntingly close to at least one version of reality.


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