BIOGRAPHY | Craig Lucas


Craig Lucas is an American playwright, screenwriter, theatre director, musical actor, and film director. He began his career as a New York-based playwright in the 1980’s. The success of his screenplay for the 1990 film Longtime Companion established him as an important contributor to the dramatic literature born of the AIDS Crisis. Although Lucas is identified with the gay theater community of his time, the characteristic themes of his work address broad issues of life’s absurdity and the arbitrary nature of fate. Lucas’s embrace of absurdity is reflected in the story of his origins.

He began life in Dickensian style, as a foundling, abandoned in the back of a car in Atlanta, beside a plaintive note from his mother explaining that she could not care for her child. His adoptive parents raised him outside Philadelphia, where his father worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His mother encouraged Lucas’s love for acting and singing. An early interest in writing poems and plays led him to the study of creative writing at Boston University, with an opportunity to study with poet Anne Sexton, who gently suggested that perhaps playwriting was his métier. He credits Sexton with helping him gain admission to the Yale School of Drama and also with encouraging him to skip graduate school and plunge right into the world of professional theater in New York.


Lucas’s first job in New York was as a chorus performer in musical theater, and his career as a playwright has often been punctuated by collaboration with musicians. Indeed, his first produced work was a revue based on musicals by the acclaimed composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. The show, Marry Me a Little, also inaugurated Lucas’s collaboration with Norman René, with whom Lucas worked closely until René’s death from AIDS complications in 1996.

Craig Lucas has received fellowships from the Guggenheim, the Rockefeller Foundations, and The National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pew Charitable Trusts. He has received the Tony Award nomination for the books An American in Paris (2015), Light in the Piazza (2005), and Prelude to a Kiss. He was nominated for the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Prelude to a Kiss.

After penning the screenplay for Prelude starring Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin; Lucas was quoted as saying:

“When Alec Baldwin kissed the old man onstage [in Prelude to a Kiss], the audience in the theater went, ‘Awww.’ When he kissed him in the film, you would have thought I brought a Rwandan child out and cut his head off. [Laughs] The studio said: Let’s make it a hug instead. And I said: Well, then we’d have to call it Prelude to a Hug. I didn’t come to the film with the adventuresome spirit that you need to take a play and rethink it. If I had the foresight, I would have made a more playful picture.”


Prelude to a Kiss | Jun 07-22, 2019

ARTICLE | Explore the magic of WICA’s “Prelude to a Kiss”


The fragility, complexity, beauty, depths and breadth of love will be shared and explored starting Friday, as Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley brings its production of Craig Lucas’ “Prelude to a Kiss” to the stage.

WICA Artistic Director and the show’s director, Deana Duncan, said this play has been on her mind and in her heart for 20 years, but now seemed like the right time to mount the production. “When I first read it way back then it was a beautiful and funny love story, now all these years later I see, feel, hear the layers of depth beneath the romantic comedy,” Duncan described. “The play fit this season of taking chances, reaching beyond our comfort zones and trying new ways to tell story and share humanity.” While so many fairy tales end with the wedding, the “happily ever after” moment, that’s really just the beginning of any true love story. And so it is with “Prelude’s” main characters. Peter and Rita have the whirlwind, romantic courtship, celebrate their


wedding and are preparing for their “happily ever after.” But a strange, magical twist of fate - in the form of a congratulatory kiss from an old man - turns everything upside down, inside out and backwards, forcing the couple to examine what true love really means. It prompts the question, what is it we love about someone, the package or the contents? “Deana sent me the script one afternoon and I read it after I got home from work that night,” said Ty Molbak, who plays Peter Hoskins. “When I finished, I remember staying seated in my living room chair for a while, as fragments of past relationships started to surface. First meetings, discovering shared humor, being completely embarrassed from my naiveté on certain topics, [with] a bittersweet mix of regret and joy accompanying it all.” “This play is so lovely, exploring the meaning of true love, and the preciousness of life,” said Gail Liston, who plays Aunt Dorothy as well as Leah. “Deana has come up with a wonderful concept which lets the young lovers be the realistic core of the story and surrounds them with characters that come from a heightened reality. This enhances the magic, as well as the beautiful sets, lights and costumes.” There are many who may remember the 1992 film version of “Prelude to a Kiss.” While the script for the movie is nearly identical to that of the stage play, and while the movie version of the story had a big budget, Duncan said she believes the play is better, because theater allows its characters to come alive right in front of an audience. “Theatre forces artists to edit to only what matters,” she said. “Craig Lucas wrote this exhilarating and challenging piece for theatre; it’s meant to be on stage, shared with a live audience who become part of the story. In the movie, when Peter shares his inner thoughts, it’s just words. In our play, when he does that, he will turn and speak to you, the audience, and your reactions will help propel us forward.” Developing those characters demands hours of work from the actors. But cast members say it is when actors can be vulnerable with one another that true magic happens. “It is a wonderful world of discovery as we

continue, day after day, in rehearsal and on our own, to discover the relationships my character has with the others and melding that with the character choices of my cast mates,” said Brian Plebanek, who portrays the bride’s uncle, Fred. “Discovery continues, even after opening night and all through the production.” “Everyone in this cast has such kind, generous, and interesting personalities,” Molbak said. “After a conversation or two, it’s impossible not to find some sort of connection with them. After that, it’s just about relaxing and opening yourself up enough so that you can really see them and can allow them to see you.” “These actors are professional level, everyone one of them brings a combination of experience and training,” Duncan said. ”They know how to quickly create believable relationships on stage and as they work through the intimacy required, they allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to believe in the love and loss their characters are feeling. “Theatre holds safe space for a group of us to come together and create story, to crack open our pains and joys and work wildly on something we all believe in,” she continued. “We do this with great love and a hope that our work will create emotion and dialogue not only around the themes of the play but around the greater themes of being human on the planet. Being given this opportunity to

work with this group of people on this script at this time – it’s a gift.” The cast also includes actors Bob Atkinson, Jessica Baxter, Ethan Berkley, Suzi Dixon and James Hinkley, with Zachary Schneider as understudy. Hinkley also composed several versions of the hit song “Prelude to a Kiss,” that are used throughout the show.

“We do have a wonderful cast of old and new friends,” said Plebanek. “This is a joy to be a part of and we hope to share that joy with every person in the audience. We hope our discoveries lead to their own discoveries.” “Deana has given us so much room to create characters,” Liston said. “This cast and crew are simply the best. I’m so happy to be a part of this show.” “Actors are amazing creatures, and they need audiences to witness and give feedback for the entire process to work,” said Duncan. “Come to the show, if only to support the work these actors and creative team have worked so hard to create and share with you…it will be worth it!”

SOURCE: Whidbey Weekly


Prelude to a Kiss | Jun 07-22, 2019

MEET THE ARTISTS | Prelude to a Kiss



Robert Atkinson is delighted though somewhat surprised to find himself once again on the WICA stage in what has turned out to be the most collegial and enjoyable production he has ever been a part of. He was last seen at WICA as Dr. John Watson in last season’s production of The American Problem, and is, apparently, beginning to establish a habit of portraying medical men whose profession is otherwise incidental to the theatrical storyline. Previous appearances include Charles Webb in Our Town (2014), Stine in City of Angels (2014), Harold Nichols in The Full Monty (2013), Jed Rowen in The Kentucky Cycle (2010), Prologue in Franklin & Figaro (2009), ensemble and prop master in Sweeney Todd (2008), and his WICA debut as Melersh Wilton in Enchanted April (2008). Off-stage, Robert pursues graduate studies in bioengineering at the University of Washington.


Jessica Baxter is a recent transplant from the Kansas City area, and is excited to be performing on the WICA stage in her first role since arriving in Washington! Jessica received a BFA in Theatre Performance from the University of Central Missouri and she is an alumni of the Stella Adler Art of Acting Studio in Los Angeles, CA. Her most recent roles include: Barbara in August: Osage County, Regina in Little Foxes and this August you will find her playing the role of Jocasta in Play Your Part Seattle’s outdoor production of Oedipus the King. She would like to thank her family for their support, Deana for giving her this incredible opportunity!


Ethan Berkley has been in human form for over a quarter of a century. Acting the part of thespian for half that time. Whidbey Island has harbored his theatrical career in it's entirety, including the role of Black Stache in WICA's December production of Peter and The Starcatcher. This past year, Ethan branching his Theater-based interests; from the front of house in Box Office at WICA, to backstage and in the booth as Stage manager for Next To Normal and Constellations. He is very grateful to be granted the opportunity to be supported in his passione teatrale. He is also very excited to be bringing a new human into fruition, coming this October!


Suzi Dixon is happy to toss her horses in the pasture, run down the road to perform in this fabulously creative hub, with loving and talented people for a community with vision and heart.


James Hinkley is making his fourth theatrical appearance on WICA’s stage in this production. Last year James was cast in the rôle of Smee in Peter and the Starcatcher. Earlier this season, he played “Uncle” Vanya in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. WICA audiences will most likely remember James from the WICA Box Office where he spent many happy years selling tickets.


Gail Liston appeared as Hannah in When We Were Young and Unafraid and Chris in Rumors. Other WICA roles include Jean in Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Sarah in The Norman Conquests, Kate in Sylvia, and Dotty in Noises Off. She directed WICA productions of The Mousetrap and A Christmas Story. With Outcast, she has appeared as Phyllis in Follies, Barbara in August: Osage County, and Jeannie in The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Other favorite roles: Roxie Hart in Chicago and Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. Gail trained with Jose Quintero, Arthur Lessac, Tony-nominee Lara Teeter, and members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Acting and has taught theatre at Cal State Fullerton, Victor Valley College, and Skagit Valley College. Gail is honored to work again with her husband, Brian Plebanek, and this amazing company of talented friends.


Ty Molbak is an actor and director raised in New Orleans, LA and on Whidbey Island, WA. He is currently based in New York City. Acting credits include: The Sabbath Girl (upcoming at Penguin Rep), Richard II & Henry IV Pt. I (Shakespeare’s Globe), Constellations (Blue Collaborative), Ten Blocks on the Camino Real, Marie, Gloria, The Emperor of the Moon, and The Cider House Rules: Part Two (Rutgers Theater Company). Directing credits include: SCORCH (Blue Collaborative/OutCast Productions), Deserve (Music Video - Round Room Image), Something Yellow (Short Film - acquired by IndieFlix), Sam Shepard Memorial Project (supported by OutCast Productions), and Mary Poppins (Whidbey Children’s Theater). Before theater and film, Ty studied ballet for six years and has danced lead roles with New Orleans Ballet Theater, Whidbey Island Dance Theater, and South Bay Ballet (Torrance, CA). Ty attended Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television before earning his BFA in acting from Mason Gross School of the Arts - Rutgers University.


Brian Plebanek is 17-year WICA veteran. His most recent WICA appearances were as Ken in Rumors and Tom in Dr Fritz. Some favorite WICA roles: Father Flynn in Doubt: A Parable, Greg in Sylvia, Dwight in Deadman’s Cell Phone, Bill in On Golden Pond, Adult Ralph/Narrator in A Christmas Story, Wayne in Inspecting Carol, Clive in See How They Run, Orsino is Twelfth Night. Brian’s roles at OutCast Productions include: Steve in August: Osage County and Michael in Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me.

Brian’s favorite musical roles are Frank’N’Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, Ernst in Cabaret, Sky in Guys and Dolls at Whidbey Playhouse, Norbert in The Great American Trailer Park Musical, and Ben in Follies at OutCast.

Brian is a singer/guitarist in local band “Breaded Fish.” Brian is thrilled to perform again with his wife, Gail Liston, and this cast and crew of good friends.


Prelude to a Kiss | Jun 07-22, 2019

DIRECTOR'S NOTE | "Prelude to a Kiss"


One of the actors told me that the word amateur came from a French word meaning “from the heart” or “lover of” – this amazing cast, crew, and creative team have poured their hearts and souls and time and talent into creating this little gem of a fairy tale and I am so very proud of them. Most of them do this for nothing more than the chance to crack open their joys and pains and work wildly on something they believe in. So, first, a thank you to them. Then, a thank you, to you the audience. We couldn’t do this without you. We need you to: witness, react, give feedback, be moved, and to create dialogue – you are the last and vital piece of our theatre puzzle – you are what make this art form stay relevant, thanks for showing up!


Prelude to a Kiss is a modern day fairy tale, and like most fairy tales, there are darker and greater forces at play than what we first see. This story centers on a simple romantic comedy with a magical twist of fate, but at its core this is a story full of ideas on life, love, loss, and aging. Mary Oliver wrote one of my favorite poems, “The Summer Day,” which ends with:

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?


That’s the question propelling our story, that’s the inspiration for the work, that’s the theme I hope you go home with. We have this one wild and precious life “never to be squandered… the miracle of a human being.” We are enough, we are here right now for a reason…this journey is worth the process.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 Deana Duncan


Prelude to a Kiss | Jun 07-22, 2019

ARTICLE | Fear. Hope. The Life Force: Why I Write Plays — Interview with Craig Lucas


“Although they are realistic in character detail and plot, Craig Lucas’s fable-like plays almost always depend on the formal magic of inventive artifice and the forceful complications of dark fairy tales.

In his best-known play, Prelude to a Kiss, which he has adapted into a Hollywood film starring Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin, a young couple, Rita and Peter, meet, fall in love and marry. At the wedding reception, a strange old man kisses Rita, and they switch souls. The man’s personality enters Rita’s body, and her personality moves into his body. Prelude to a Kiss, which premiered in 1990 at the height of the AIDS Crisis, fancifully deals with the sudden and unexpected onslaught of disease and the proximity of death. It is often read as an AIDS allegory. Like Prelude to a Kiss, Lucas’s screenplay to the film Longtime Companion (one of the first Hollywood films to depict gay characters in the main roles and to acknowledge the AIDS crisis in the 1980s) also centers on a kiss. One of its characters is a writer for a soap opera, and he writes a scene with a gay kiss, which is seen by a host of gay male characters and one straight woman, whose number slowly dwindles as the AIDS epidemic rages on and the plot depicts a single day for each year of the 1980s…” more

SOURCE: Critical Stages/Scènes critiques


Prelude to a Kiss | June 07-22, 2019

ESSAY | "Consider the Metaphor"

“Metaphor is inseparable from human language and conceptual thought. The use of metaphor appears in our earliest stories; the first writing about it appears in Aristotle, who wrote, ‘Metaphor consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else.”’ The literary device is as at home in Shakespeare (‘All the world’s a stage’) as it is in 80’s pop music (‘Once had love and it was a gas, soon turned out / had a heart of glass’). The singer Blondie did not literally have a heart of glass, but the listener grasps her meaning: her heart was fragile and easily broken. Metaphors transfer and transmit meaning.

‘Heart of Glass’ is straightforward, but the best metaphors are complex. Consider the “extended metaphor,” also called a conceit. Shakespeare’s metaphor from As You Like It, ‘All the world’s a stage,’ extends and deepens in the next line: ‘And all the men and women merely players.’ As the lines continue, each image is layered on to the one before, logically following from idea to idea. If the world is a stage, then people are the players and, as players, ‘they have their exits and their entrances.’ If we understand exits as deaths and entrances as births, simple comparisons transform into a poetic, existential consideration of mortality.

In Craig Lucas’ Prelude to a Kiss, a romantic fairy tale evolves into a powerful and moving metaphor. The play began for Lucas as an attempt to capture how marriage transforms one’s lover, how newlyweds wake up the next day and feel as if they don’t know the person lying next to them. When Lucas found himself confronted by the AIDS Crisis and watching beautiful youths transforming overnight into old men — he echoed the dark transformations in his play.

Prelude has become a modern classic, and what makes the play endure is that Lucas doesn’t simply use language to contain his metaphor; he uses bodies. Metaphor is made flesh in [SPOILER ALERT]… continue reading here.

SOURCE: Huntington Theatre Company


Prelude to a Kiss | June 07-22, 2019

ARTICLE | “Next to Normal” rocks more than the WICA stage

Some things defy expectations. Next to Normal, at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley, is sure to be one of them.

Next to Normal is the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical about a suburban American family and one woman’s journey through her bipolar episodes and depression,” described director Deana Duncan, WICA’s Artistic Director. “It is at turns funny, heartbreakingly tender, and stunningly beautiful.”

With a small cast of just six actors, Duncan said the music is easily the seventh character.

“This music begins soft and plays at your heartstrings, then it drives deep into your belly and soul and then it rocks the foundation of your emotions,” she described. “I’ve been listening nonstop to this music for over six months and it’s only getting stronger. The music holds, carries and matches the authenticity of the emotion this story shares.”

“The music is composed as part and parcel of the telling of the story - the melodic riffs, the rhythmic impulses, the chosen instrumentation are all very intentional as a way to convey the reality of each character AND the arc of their development as the play unfolds,” said musical director Sheila Weidendorf. “The music is the heart of the story…” — Kathy Reed, Whidbey Weekly

Read the entire article here.


Next to Normal | Apr 05-20, 2019

DIRECTOR'S NOTE | "Next to Normal"

Sometimes, the universe gives us an experience so full and authentic it cracks us open. Next to Normal has been in my heart and mind and soul for 7 years, since my son Zachary, in college on the East Coast, called at intermission in tears and said…”Mom…this show…” and I’ve wanted to work on it ever since.

There are three lyrics I’d like you to listen for please…because I think they hold the heartbeat of the story. These are the lessons we can cultivate enough courage to hear and act on so we can move forward and I think these are what make Next to Normal so important:

The doctor tells Diana at one point:

Admit what you’ve lost

And live with the cost

At times it does hurt to be healed

Natalie tells us:

Give me clouds, and rain, and gray.

Give me pain if that’s what’s real

It’s the price we pay to feel

And Diana shares with us:

And you find out you don’t have to be happy at all

To be happy you’re alive

There is great hope in this story but it’s only possible with the courage that comes from accepting this human life of ours in all its complexity and pain and beauty.

This cast, band, and creative team have worked some magic here, I have to thank Sheila Weindendorf who was the only one I knew could hold this, Verna Everitt who took away the fences, David Mackie who created this set and lighting and gave us a pallet to grow in, the WICA Board and Staff for all the support, and my boys, my family for letting me break open my heart…and not walking away.”

 Deana Duncan


Next to Normal | Apr 05-20, 2019

KEY IDEAS | What is bipolar disorder?


Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

There are four basic types of bipolar disorder; all of them involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, and energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very sad, “down,” or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.


People with bipolar disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and activity levels, and unusual behaviors. These distinct periods are called “mood episodes.” Mood episodes are drastically different from the moods and behaviors that are typical for the person. Extreme changes in energy, activity, and sleep go along with mood episodes.


Treatment helps many people—even those with the most severe forms of bipolar disorder—gain better control of their mood swings and other bipolar symptoms. An effective treatment plan usually includes a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and for those who have not been able to recover with other treatments — electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Learn more about bipolar disorder at the National Institute of Mental Health.


Next to Normal | Apr 05-20, 2019

ARTICLE | Is "Next to Normal" Normal?

“A few months ago I headed to New York for my friend Jenny Fisher’s 50th b-day celebration along with a few high school friends. I sprung for tickets to Next to Normal, a play described to me as a musical about familial dysfunction. When we waffled about our other activities, I suggested that we see Ground Zero. I wanted to physically experience for the first time the spot that remains seared in the memory of every living American. My friends appreciated the free tix, but thought I was nuts. “What’s next on the Depression Tour?” They razzed. “Graveyards? Prisons? Hospitals for the terminally ill?”

Next to Normal is fabulous; make time to see the show. The script zings, both funny and painful. The music pulses, keeping a tough subject palatable—even entertaining. If you’ve seen the show and read my book you might understand why I was sobbing by the end of the first act. Middle-aged Diana, the play’s lead, is adored by her husband Dan, but drops into a deep depression. Despite medication and psychotherapy, she catapults further. Diana attempts suicide followed by ECT. The details are different, but this story is my story on stage…” more.

Julie K. Hersh, Psychology Today


Next to Normal | Apr 05-20, 2019