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THE DYING GAUL, Apple Tree Theatre. After all the commercial success Craig Lucas has had, it's extraordinary that he still can't write a coherent play. In his newest puffed-up trifle, The Dying Gaul, he tells the story of first-time screenwriter Robert, who's peddling a script based on the recent death of his lover from AIDS. When studio head Jeffrey offers Robert a million dollars if he'll make the gay characters straight, it seems this will be yet another Hollywood morality tale. But that plot all but disappears by the second scene, and Lucas goes on to invent new stories every ten minutes: Robert's struggle to let himself grieve, his therapist's efforts to keep from getting too involved with his patient, Jeffrey's battle to define his sexual orientation, Jeffrey's wife's inexplicable compulsion to impersonate Robert's dead lover in Internet chat rooms.

As usual, Lucas strings together a series of semivolatile, semiplausible situations that never develop but instead conveniently explode whenever the snappy chitchat ebbs or the poetic superficialities dry up. No meaningful point of view develops, and ultimately all moral crises are dismissed with a shrug. Still, director Gary Griffin coaxes strong, credible performances from his four cast members--a feat akin to spinning gold out of air.

--Justin Hayford

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