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Brave new worlds

Craig Lucas isn't content to stay in his place.

By Adam Feldman

In the past three decades, Craig Lucas has boldly ventured into an amazing range of genres and subject matter: a paranormal romantic comedy (Prelude to a Kiss), an AIDS chronicle (Longtime Companion), a searing moral drama (Small Tragedy) and a lush, ambiguous musical (The Light in the Piazza). In his latest play, Prayer for My Enemy, he continues to stake out new terrain.

What compelled you to write about an Iraq War soldier?
I wanted to move away from the white-boy cocktail plays that so often do well, and show a working-class family—with this boy who decides to go [to Iraq] because he feels it's the right thing to do, and who doesn't get support from his family. There's a line in the play that is directly from the mouth of my father, may he rest in peace. When the war began, I said, "Daddy, don't you feel anything for these Americans who are giving their lives?" And my father—a huge supporter of Bush, lifelong Republican, former FBI agent and former marine—said, "You don't know anybody over there." What's happened to the soul of our country is that we don't know anybody over there unless we're poor or come from a family of professional soldiers.

Is your own opposition to the war reflected in this story?
I wasn't interested in saying this is wrong and this is right. [One of the characters] is a 12-stepper, and that work is very much about forgiveness and taking responsibility for your own actions and not policing others, so those are some of the feelings I was trying to work out. But as a playwright, you're not trying to prove a point. The Three Sisters isn't "saying" anything. No great, lasting work of art is "saying" anything. We've killed 20 times more people than Saddam Hussein ever killed; we are clearly the tyrants. But no play is going to make anybody see or feel that. I write to reach out to people, and tell a good story. Plays and books and movies do not change people's minds about politics, but they may change their hearts about individuals.

Isn't forgiveness political?
It may be, if one considers Gandhi or Nelson Mandela political figures; and the play hopefully provides some insight into those kinds of choices. As a species, we've never investigated what pacifism might really mean. What if we had done nothing after 9/11? Or met with Osama bin Laden and said, "That was bad. What up with you?" What would have happened if Hitler had been allowed to take over the world? Tyrants don't last very long; Lenin and Stalin were basically not stopped, Mao was not stopped, but in both of those places, democracy has nonetheless gained footage—and, unfortunately, so has capitalism. Clearly it's very human to want to retaliate, but Christ did say to turn the other cheek, and that's never been promulgated by the leaders of any Christian religion. Again, I'm not advocating for anything. But those questions interest me.

Prayer for My Enemy opens Nov 14 at Playwrights Horizons.

NEXT: British intelligence

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