I usually start interviews by reminding artists of Xtra’s readership demographics so they can pitch their project directly to that audience. That’s why I’m shocked that we’re more than 90 minutes into our conversation before actor Jason Stroud lets it slip he has a nude scene in Burn This.
“I’m usually nude in my life, so it’s not a big deal for me,” the Toronto native says, laughing. “Fortunately, for the gay men in the audience, I have a giant butt, big arms and a six-pack. For anyone who enjoys that kind of thing, this show is for you.”
First staged in 1987, Lanford Wilson’s play follows gay advertising executive Larry (Stroud) and his dancer roommate Anna (Ashleigh Rains) as they struggle with the surprise death of their friend Robbie. When Robbie’s homophobic restaurant-manager brother Pale (Kyle Labine) turns up coked to the gills to collect Robbie’s belongings, it sets off a chain of events where all three must try to make sense of their lives.
Burn This sits apart from most gay literature of its time in that it makes no mention of AIDS. For Stroud, this isn’t a way to ignore the subject but simply a different take on gay identity.
“There were no gay characters in film or television, and typically, the ones we saw in theatre were sick and dying,” Stroud says. “Then Wilson comes along and writes this play that’s actually working to normalize the gay experience. I imagine in the 1980s there were gay men who really needed to see a reality like this reflected onstage. At the same time, it’s a play that can totally be done in 2014 with no sense that it’s dated.”
Stroud’s just back in Toronto after six years in New York. Besides a role in Rob Salerno’s Raw, he’s been working mostly as a reader for film castings. So it’s no surprise he’s ecstatic at the chance to shine in his hometown.
“There’s really nothing like acting onstage,” he says. “It’s so exhausting, but so exciting at the same time. It’s great to be back.”