“Caladus, the Thracian, makes all the girls sigh,” written on a wall in Pompeii, refers to the reigning idol of the state-sponsored battles to the death. As another Thracian fighter, Eric Lucas fills the Scena Theatre’s stage with existential intensity as writer-director Robert McNamara’s gladiator. McNamara compares the lives of forced combatants of ancient Rome to those of modern rock stars, with the concomitant perks of wine and woman, differing only in the gladiator’s ever-present groupie, death. For 50 or so supercharged minutes, the gladiator talks about colleagues he has lost, comments on the citizens of Rome who fawn over him but will someday cheer at his violent death, and builds his courage to face the blood and sand in the arena without. Lucas’ gladiator paces the small stage like a caged tiger, but unlike Russell Crowe’s strong, silent Maximus, he is a stream-of-consciousness rock poet. “There is no shortage of those who wish to see others die,” he knows. Today he might end up like his cohorts, Mucius and Mucus—the image of the recently killed duo being dragged out of the arena by hooks through their ankles haunts the gladiator. But there are other images running through his mind—the wine, the “young cocksucking society whores”—that counterbalance the visions of slaughter. Do the temporal delights of superstardom compensate for his imminent death? “I’m full of jokes, full of puns today,” he sighs, and sure enough, McNamara sprinkles the gladiator’s rant with groaners such as “terror firma” and a fellow combatant named Maximus Gluteus. (Anachronisms like “Welcome to Caesar’s Palace” and referring to the year as 98 A.D. also yank the audience out of our hero’s universe.) Costume designer Alisa Mandel gives the gladiator a black-leather-and-studs look (think Mad Max via Billy Idol) and paints him a helmet of black slashes broken by ominous red triangles on his cheeks. Michael C. Stepowany’s set design consists mainly of metal ribs girding a chair and ice bucket. But when the gladiator takes the only other prop, a microphone stand, in hand, his inner star is released. Unfortunately, Lucas struggles at times with the dense, rapid-fire, cueless monologue, but he never relaxes the gladiator’s infuriated, tortured tension—the sex and violence he emanates permeate the small room. As the play ends, McNamara awkwardly tries to summarize our walk in the gladiator’s sandals with non sequiturs like “Spontaneity can cost you an awful lot.” Better to let the “existential executor”’s story tell itself.—Janet Hopf