Playwright Craig Lucas wins a new local prize–and relaxes on the beach.
By Kay Kipling
Playwright Craig Lucas, in town to accept the inaugural Hermitage Artist’s Retreat Greenfield Prize to write a brand-new work for the stage, sounded pretty relaxed when I spoke to him by cell phone from the beach outside the Hermitage’s Manasota Key compound, where he’s staying for a few days. And that’s a good thing, because it’s a week of press reviews for his latest play, The Singing Forest, at New York’s Public Theater (with a cast including Olympia Dukakis), and he’d just as soon be out of town.
“There’s nothing I can do there anymore but be nervous, and I’d rather be nervous on the beach,” he laughs. “You know, it’s like trying to hold the plane up with your mind.”
Lucas may not have much to worry about; his last play, Prayer for My Enemy, a dark piece touching on aspects of the Iraq war, alcoholism and homosexuality, received generally good reviews, including, Lucas says, “a very eloquent piece by John Lahr in the New Yorker, and he doesn’t usually like my work. I’m really very happy with the reception it received.”
Lucas has been a practicing playwright for about 30 years, with works including Prelude to a Kiss, The Light in the Piazza and Blue Window to his credit. His musical play, Three Postcards (reviewed on April 16 in this blog), is currently onstage in an FSU/Asolo Conservatory production in the Cook Theatre, and he plans to see it on Saturday. The production’s director, Conservatory head Greg Leaming, is someone Lucas says he’s “very fond of. And he’s always liked Three Postcards, which is something of an acquired taste. He used to work at Hartford Stage, which commissioned my piece, The Dying Gaul.”
Speaking of working to a commission, Lucas says he’s “not so big on the idea of inspiration” or waiting for it to strike. “If you just sit at your desk every day, turn your imagination on, and are willing to listen, you will write something,” he says. “With a play, you have to come up with something that holds enough desire and conflict to sustain a couple hours of storytelling. It can’t be easily resolvable, and of course sometimes it’s not resolvable at all.” And he’s been fortunate not to have to discard much of his writing, he says. “Sometimes I may put it away for a while, but when I come back to it I find something there.”
Typically Lucas, who’s also worked as a director and an actor, likes to be as involved as he can with the process of getting a play of his mounted. “Sometimes that’s difficult, if I’m working on a movie at the same time,” he admits. “But I do have to be there to listen to what’s going on if I need to rewrite.”
Besides his writing career, Lucas is also associate artistic director at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre, and I asked how the economy was affecting that company. “Everybody’s hurting,” he says, “even the wealthiest theaters with the biggest endowments. The Intiman is doing smaller plays and a shorter season, and because people are comfortable more with classics than new work, they haven’t done one of my plays the last two years.”
Although this was Lucas’ first visit to Sarasota, he was familiar with the west coast of Florida; his parents used to live in Sun City Center. And hopefully he’ll be back for the reading of his Greenfield Prize work next spring at the Asolo Rep. In the meantime, of the rest of his stay here, he says, “I’m planning on being a royal vegetable.”