Craig Lucas is a versatile playwright with a serious sideline in musical theater. His work can be classified as postmodern in its playful disregard for realism and its emphasis on the uncertainty, even the absurdity, of modern life. In this respect, his work may be seen as influenced by Edward Albee, Eugène Ionesco, and even Samuel Beckett. On the other hand, some of his work, such as Reckless, has a lightness in the face of despair that echoes the tone of such contemporaries as Stephen Sondheim and Caryl Churchill. In the early part of his career, Lucas did not treat gay themes directly or include many gay characters in his works. He has attributed this both to an initial reluctance to come out as a gay man to his family, to his belief that a playwright should create characters rather than model them on himself, and to the lack of models of effective gay drama when he was starting to write in the late 1970’s. Nevertheless, it is possible to see a gay subtext in even his earliest plays, which do not mention AIDS but nonetheless treat the suffering that occurs when unexpected illnesses and death leave loved ones in shock and mourning. Thus his plays may be said to treat AIDS as representative of the kind of life-threatening calamity that men and women are vulnerable to at any time. Examples of such vulnerability include the many calamities in Reckless, the death of Libby’s husband in Blue Window, and Rita’s transformation in Prelude to a Kiss. With God’s Heart, the tone of Lucas’s work began to darken, a trend that continued with The Dying Gaul and Stranger.
This play begins on Christmas Eve with the black comedy premise that a man, having second thoughts about the hit he ordered on his wife, Rachel, urges her to flee out the window before the killer arrives. Leaping in her nightdress, Rachel assumes a new identity that foists further confusion on her before she can reconcile herself to the past. First, she is taken in by Lloyd and his wife, Pooty, a paralyzed deaf woman. After Rachel has learned to communicate with the couple in sign language, Pooty reveals to her that the deafness is a charade designed to make Lloyd feel that she needs him. The three friends are visited by Rachel’s now repentant husband, Tom, but before reconciliation can take place, Tom and Pooty are poisoned by a mysterious bottle of champagne left on the doorstep. In fear of being viewed as murderers, Rachel and Lloyd flee, but his deteriorating mental state leads him to subsist only on champagne and refuse to change out of the Santa suit he was wearing at the time of the poisonings. After Lloyd starves to death, Rachel ironically becomes a psychologist—ironic because throughout the play she has sought help from mental health professionals, only to have her concerns repeatedly trivialized or misunderstood. (One of her therapists turns out to be the school bus driver who ran over Rachel’s mother when Rachel was six.) In the final scene, Rachel realizes that her new client is her son, who believes she abandoned him and his brother on that Christmas Eve many years earlier. The play’s last exchanges of dialogue imply the possibility of reconciliation for mother and son.
On the surface, Reckless takes its audience for a wild ride through Rachel’s chaotic and violence-strewn experience. The often brutal world of this play begins and ends in the context of Christmas, raising questions about the sentimental visions of family harmony associated with that holiday. Rachel’s fellow sufferer, Lloyd, wears a Santa Claus suit through a crucial section of the play during which he is grieving the death of his wife and depriving himself of nutrition. Rachel’s endurance amid the absurd coincidences and painful stripping away of human ties makes her resemble a suffering Beckett character. The last-minute reunion of mother and son, however, is a more hopeful gesture than we often find in Theater of the Absurd.
Blue Window is experimental in form on several levels. In this text, Lucas juxtaposes scenes of various guests getting ready for a dinner party against glimpses of the hostess’s anxiety as she prepares to receive them. Lucas establishes a surface of trivial conversation while insinuating a subtext suggesting the great anxiety felt by the hostess Libby. The overlapping dialogue of the opening scene creates a feeling of absurdity as a lesbian couple practice arbitrary Italian phrases (“The highway is pink”), Libby’s friend Griever performs lines from A Streetcar Named Desire (pr., pr. 1947) and mimics singer Diana Ross, and Tom attempts to compose the music of a song, worrying about the not-yet-written words. The play appears to have virtually no plot, other than the idea that Libby is very nervous about entertaining and relies on Griever to reassure her that the party will be successful. Over the course of the evening, the characters reveal their personal and professional preoccupations. Several are artists: Alice is a novelist, Griever a painter, and Tom a musician. Alice’s female lover, Boo, is a family therapist. Norbert is Libby’s skydiving instructor...
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