"I didn't come here intending to be so angry," Craig Lucas explains. But before the words even leave his mouth, the playwright is bent over in his chair with his hand on my arm, filling The Stranger's small conference room with a flamboyant stage guffaw. Lucas' latest work, Singing Forest, is in the waning days of its first production at Intiman Theatre, where the author also serves as associate artistic director, and de facto artist in residence. Since Bartlett Sher took over as Intiman's artistic director in 2000, the company has mounted three major productions of Lucas plays, all directed by Sher, as well as a revival of Joe Orton's Loot, which Lucas directed. These productions include a thriller (The Dying Gaul, 2001), a musical (The Light in the Piazza, 2003), and now, the genre-defying Singing Forest, which was initially commissioned by ACT.

Though Lucas, a major American playwright who spends at least half of every year living in Seattle, has come here to discuss the new play--a problematic epic that has played to packed audiences despite dramatically mixed reviews--his attention turns quickly to politics.

"I'm sorry," he offers, rhetorically. "It's just that I've been in rehearsal nonstop and working 'round the clock for the last five weeks and I have woken up to find out that Bush's approval ratings are not in the toilet, and I'm very concerned with my fellow citizens."

It stands to reason that the discussion would take a topical direction, since Lucas' role at Intiman has much to do with funding for the arts, which, in turn, has much to do with politics, which, in turn, makes Craig Lucas furious. Within moments of sitting down, he spits up a torrent of invective for "our neo-fascist plutocrat friends" in the Bush administration.

"If Bush is reelected," Lucas whispers harshly, "I'm going to take Canadian citizenship, and get out. 'Cause I actually don't want to pay taxes anymore to a country that will fight a preemptive war like this... I'll make money off the United States gladly; I just don't want to pay taxes anymore. I don't want to have my money killing poor children who did nothing, so that shareholders at Halliburton can make another $10 billion this year. I mean, these are really evil people."

MANY SAD REALITIES

Not for nothing, but Lucas also has a choice word or two for New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley ("He really has effectively strangled and destroyed my career"), New York in general ("They all think they're sitting on top of the world, but it's really a terribly provincial town"), and, naturally, The Sorry State of American Theater ("Not-for-profit theaters are doing Annie and Tom Stoppard..."). His diatribes, though funny and dramatic, are undercut with subtle self-effacement. The cynicism is clearly in place to shield the things he loves, which is why one takes the claim that he has already applied for Canadian citizenship every bit as seriously as the claim--in a year that has seen him win the Obie for Best American Play (Small Tragedy) and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Screenplay (The Secret Lives of Dentists), and direct his first feature film (The Dying Gaul, based on his celebrated play)--that Ben Brantley has destroyed his career.

To that list of accomplishments, one may now add Singing Forest, a massive comic tragedy whose subject matter--psychoanalysis, Nazism, the erosion of class, the rise of consumerism, the mainstreaming of gay culture, celebrity, anonymity, phone sex, and Starbucks--spans, and in some way attempts to define the trajectory of, the 20th century. Though the play is due for revision at the end of its Intiman run, Lucas feels confident that, "as an experience, it's working. It didn't on Friday. But, for most of the performances now, the audience has been standing at the end. And for a three-and-a-half-hour play about Nazi Germany with many sad realities in it, I don't feel ashamed."

Early word of mouth surrounding the project suggested that Lucas was attempting to fashion a Major Work, something on the scale of Angels in America that might vault him to the first rank of American playwrights. There are superficial similarities between the two plays, including the use of dramaturge Oskar Eustis. But the author--who has been in the first rank of American playwrights for 15 years--demurs.

"I've had some friends feel that way about it," says Lucas of the show's alleged Kushnerian ambitions. "But I kind of love whatever I'm doing and it all feels the same to me in terms of investment. This one took longer, for reasons of its own.... I write fast but I don't process quickly at all; I need time, so if it's a 'Major Work' I'd be happy because that would mean I might make some money."

Lucas once again explodes with theatrical laughter.

YOU CAN ALWAYS DISMISS SOMETHING

In an interview excerpted in the program of The Dying Gaul, Lucas argued that all genres of drama, but especially tragedy and farce, contain a certain degree of preposterousness. Consider Oedipus. Consider Twelfth Night. Consider Cats. Now consider Singing Forest. In the frantic climax of the second act of Lucas' new play, we learn that every single character is related by either blood or romance, a revelation which retroactively recasts the entire play as either a wild farce, a crypto-Freudian case study, a frightful miscalculation, or some combination of these, depending on the viewer. And that's before the Nazis storm in. The scene is arresting, if perhaps a bit enamored of its own audacity. It's also the epicenter of the play's collision of farce and tragedy. Lucas has made frequent use of the outrageous turn of events in his past work--most famously in the fairy-tale identity switch that motorizes Prelude to a Kiss--and never without dramatic motivation. This new play, however, turns on a series of coincidences so outlandish as to seem almost confrontational. If Singing Forest isn't a Major Work, it certainly represents a major challenge. In a play that features an octogenarian sex worker administering phone stimulation to a teenager who successfully masquerades as a middle-aged billionaire in the national press, might people be too distracted by the onslaught of preposterousness to absorb the more serious issues at hand?

"I think for some people this question of believability is very important," Lucas considers. "I think what's happened is that melodrama, and soap opera, and sitcoms, have diminished our capacity for wonder. You can always dismiss something. I mean, if you don't believe in ghosts, you could say Hamlet doesn't mean anything. I knew a man who fell out of a 37th-story window on the east side of Manhattan and fell through many awnings and onto his new bride and killed her. And I wrote a play about it and I changed it to the seventh floor, thinking that would be more credible, and quite a few people said, 'Well that's just completely preposterous, that couldn't possibly happen.'"

Lucas pauses for a breath. "I feel like you have to have missed life," he says, "you have to not have noticed to, um, not get that it is the exceptional that sort of defines us."

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