Saturday, November 8, 2014

Doug Lucie's GAUCHO -- A reading in Washington DC

Doug Lucie is one of the greatest British playwrights of our time. So why aren't we talking about him more these days? And why has his work not found more of an audience in the United States?

As a playwright here in Washington, DC, I'm frankly perplexed by these questions. Lucie is the key figure in the transition between the rich and influential UK political theatre of the 1970s and the "In-yer-face" movement of the 1990s. His works are fiercely literate and polemical and political (see Hard Feelings, his classic play about gentrifying Brixton on the edge of the 1981 riots). Yet Lucie's plays also point forward into the open psychic and physical wounding found in Mark Ravenhill and Sarah Kane's work. The brutality of 1987's Fashion (which explores the squalid alliance of advertising firms and Tory politics), or his prescient savaging of men's movement in Progress (1984) are wonders of concentrated argument anchored strongly in vivid character.

My questions about why Lucie and his marvelous plays are not a central part of our discussion about contemporary playwriting has compelled some action on my part. I am organizing a reading of one of Lucie's greatest plays, Gaucho (1994) in Washington DC on Monday, February 8, 2015.

On its surface, Gaucho is about drugs and the war on drugs,  But the play's plot reunites a group of Oxford classmates and their significant others on a Mediterranean island, Gaucho touches deeply on questions of personal morality, public liberties and the persistence and distorting power of memory. It's one of Lucie's most acerbic and most accessible plays.

I recently asked Lucie to talk a bit about the writing of Gaucho, which takes its title, of course, from the shimmering and drug-soaked 1980 album by Steely Dan.

Lucie mentioned that he started writing the play in 1992 and 1993, right after the Labour Party lost the 1992 election in a swirl of the Conservative Party's kinder, gentler makeover in the person of John Major and a continuing internecine strife within Labour itself. The 1992 election annihilated what was perhaps the last chance to push back against the Thatcher Revolution in British politics. Instead, it ratified that Thatcher revolution in five more years of Conservative rule and the eventual rebranding of Labour under Tony Blair.

"This impacted on every part of society," Lucie writes. "All revolutions create their disenfranchised, and Thatcher's had disenfranchised those in society who had most benefited from the postwar social democratic settlement. Industrial workers, anybody in a low-wage job, the media, academia and the arts.

"In Gaucho, I wanted to express the disillusion and alienation that this restoration of the centuries-old establishment meant to those of us who thought poorly of the new establishment and even more critically of the system they sought to reimpose on us. But the traditional means of expression had been snatched away and now everything was managed by a corrupt media, business and political class that was going to have its way and call it democracy."

The protagonist of Gaucho is Declan Moss, a drug dealer who exists in that shadowy realm of rogue capital, spying and international terror. Lucie adds that Moss is "a bloke who knew this, and through his chosen method waged a sort of war on those who were committing this social and political crime. And on their benighted followers, his former friends. Which made a play that is revolted by the immorality of our society, but can only express that revulsion by depicting a man stepping over the line and becoming an outlaw, because every other course of action is a sell-out."

I am looking for help to put this reading of Gaucho together. If Lucie and his work intrigue you, I invite you to head to the Indiegogo campaign I have set up to help make this chance for Washington DC audiences to hear Lucie's work happen in February.