* Vineyard Theatre, New York City * Written by Craig Lucas * Directed by Mark Brokaw * Starring Kyra Sedgwick and David Strathairn * Through November 5.

The playwright Craig Lucas is no stranger to philosophical exploration. His plays have always examined deeply human questions about identity (*Reckless*), loss (*Blue Window*), and love (*Prelude to a Kiss*). But he’s usually been sneaky and seductive about it, writing plays whose cheerful comic veneer masked many layers of psychological insight and social commentary. You’re surprised at the end that so many tender parts of your heart have been touched because there were so many laughs along the way. This was true even of his screenplay for the landmark AIDS film *Longtime Companion*, directed by Norman Rene, who collaborated with Lucas on all of his plays and films until his untimely death in 1995.

In recent years, Lucas’s writing has taken a darker turn, as if the playwright could no longer pretend not to be devastated by the losses of lovers and friends to AIDS. (His 1995 column for the Advocate entitled “Postcard from Grief” stands as one of the most powerful expressions of that devastation in our literature.) How love survives after death was the subject of both *God’s Heart* and *The Dying Gaul*, with the latter play delving honestly into the rage that inevitably accompanies deep grieving.

*Stranger* picks up where *The Dying Gaul* left off. The question it asks is this: when you’ve suffered inexplicable cruelty, how do you continue to live without being consumed by bitterness and a desire for revenge? Ever the nimble theater artist, Lucas embeds this inquiry into a deceptively simple plot. Hush (David Strathairn) and Linda (Kyra Sedgwick), who meet by chance on a plane, confess to each other the heinous crimes they have committed. In the course of the play, however, we learn that this was not a chance meeting, and these two are not exactly strangers.

Mark Brokaw’s production at the Vineyard Theater works best at suggesting the symbolic drama being enacted between these two people, who on some deep level are the same person: yin and yang, God and Satan. Unfortunately, the actors are unable to manage the tricky task of inhabiting both the literal and symbolic levels, so the production stays on the level of earthbound melodrama. Which is a shame, because Lucas’s play makes some provocative points about how the person who clings to the identity of victim inevitably becomes perpetrator. *Strangers*’s haunting final image captures the all-too-human tendency to stay locked up in a psychological prison because, hey, it feels like home.

The Advocate, November 21, 2000

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