Toronto
2 min

Full value fun

'Boys In The Band say No Sex Please, We're British'

SURREAL COMEDY. In the entertaining Cold Meat Party, Ross Manson and Sarah Orenstein make the most out of Brad Fraser's stereotypical characters and melodramatic plot twists. Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

Brad Fraser is one of Canada’s funniest playwrights and his day job as a writer and producer for Queer As Folk is testament to his major skills as a melodramatist. But his plays are really not as controversial or leading edge as he would like them to be.



So it is difficult to see what on earth was so objectionable to Canadian Stage managers that they refused to produce his latest Cold Meat Party, now playing at Factory Theatre.



Perhaps it was just one of those famous “personality differences” allegedly so prevalent amongst artistic types. Or maybe CanStage pooh-bahs were upset that Fraser doesn’t write in the realistic style allegedly loved by English Canadian audiences. Whole theatrical reputations have been based on the naturalistic representation on stage of the lives of the dreariest of Canadians.



Fraser’s characters are anything but dreary. They are all entertaining stereotypes. In Cold Meat Party for example there’s a gay pop star, a feminist film director, a homophobic politician, a defiant teen, to list just a few. They are plot devices, useful in telling the jokes, getting the story across and illuminating Fraser’s ideas of the moment. No one is under any illusion that his characters exist outside of the world of his plays. In order for his plays to work it is a distinct disadvantage for an audience to actually identify with any of his characters.



Ken Gass, Factory Theatre’s artistic director, has imported Braham Murray, the director from the original production in Manchester, where the action is set – not because the play is in any sense about England or the English but because Fraser’s plays need a strong hand at the controls.



Strangely enough, given that its director and the first performance venue are English, the play is resolutely Canadian, with the least successful characters being the two English ones. Mind you, it is sweet to see Fraser making exculpatory little jokes about Canadians, no doubt hoping to impress that first British audience.



Helping to destroy any sense that we are in the world of naturalism, designer Astrid Janson firmly locates the play in a weird dinner-theatre set built to resemble a mistaken stereotype of an English living room. Against Janson’s set, Ross Manson’s startling arrival, playing an aging gay pop star in leather, makes it seem as if we plunging into a surreal production of “Boys In The Band say No Sex Please, We’re British.”



As the evening goes on, Manson makes the most of his role, modulating his performance away from the outrageousness of his entrance. For acting honours his main rival is Sarah Orenstein who copes like a trooper with some of Fraser’s most melodramatic plot twists.



Those twists and his smart funny dialogue mean that once again Brad Fraser is full value for a fun night out at the theatre.



* Cold Meat Party runs until Sun, Oct 31 at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St); call (416) 504-9971.