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The Dying Gaul

Craig Lucas’ decade-old play, set in 1995, receives a commendable L.A. premiere under Jon Lawrence Rivera’s taut yet compassionate direction. Robert (Patrick Hancock) is a screenwriter about to sell his first script. Hollywood producer Jeffrey (Ken Arquelio) wants to buy Robert’s screenplay — if Robert, who recently lost his companion to AIDS, will heterosexualize his gay-themed love story. We soon learn two lessons: A million dollars cuts away a lot of gay pride, and macho movie producers are never what they seem. The fire behind the play, though, is Jeffrey’s wife, Elaine (Mary-Ellen Loukas), a pensive beauty who becomes obsessed with Robert. Using information purloined from Robert’s psychiatrist (Nick Salamone), she impersonates the screenwriter’s dead lover in Internet chat-room conversations with him. Lucas’ play is a funny tragedy peopled with intelligent figures who make stupid decisions. Rivera’s actors display an emotional grace even as their characters unravel — Arquelio especially exudes the dark intensity of a man who naturally deceives himself and others in pursuit of what he believes is true. “You can do anything you want,” he tells Robert, “as long as you don’t name it for what it is.” Gary Lee Reed’s simple set makes efficient use of upstage sliding panels, though the stage’s center of gravity will appear seriously distant for audience members closest to the theater’s entrance. Bonnie Bailey Reed deserves credit for recreating a world, now merely 13 years ago, that seems so distant because of its brick-sized cell phones and double-floppy-drive laptops. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 pm.; thru Apr 19. (323) 960-7745. A Master Class Players Production.—Steven Mikulan


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