If each new theatre season takes the pulse of the public mood, it should feel like something of a relief that the Cultch opens its fall 2011 season with True Love Lies, the latest offering from Toronto playwright Brad Fraser. The whip-smart family drama is a comedic exploration of sexual fluidity through an unexpected collision of old flames.
For both the characters in the play and the Vancouver cast at work on it, the production marks a reunion — actor Andrew McIlroy is reunited with director, and long-time friend, Katrina Dunn, while the play follows the reunion of ex-lovers David (played by McIlroy) and Kane (Greg Armstrong-Morris) after 20 years apart. What’s changed in the decades since they split? Kane is married to a woman and has two adult children, and David’s arrival predictably draws out the many skeletons in the family closet.
Fraser, 52, is one of the most commercially successful playwrights in the country, and he has spent his career chronicling gay life in Canada. Audiences and critics like to call his work edgy, but as far as Fraser himself is concerned, he’s just being honest. Sexuality, after all, isn’t black and white, and he explores that in his work.
“What people are really scared about with my shows is the fact that characters who identify as straight are sometimes gay. And characters who identify as gay are sometimes straight,” he says.
“There are a lot of people in the straight and the gay community whose backs go up, who really don’t want to have to think about that kind of thing, despite the fact there are a great many people in the world whose sexuality will not be pinned down and will change according to context and personality.”
The premise for True Love Lies came to Fraser when he received an email from a former partner after not hearing from him for almost 20 years. “He had married a woman and wanted to call to tell me how important our relationship had been to the way he deals with his wife and family now,” Fraser recalls. “That led me to the question of, What if I accidentally ran into that partner’s kids and didn’t know they were his kids? What would the reaction be?” So began yet another occasion to revisit David McMillan, a recurring character in Fraser’s plays who often functions as Fraser’s literary avatar.
For McIlroy, playing David is an occasion to step into the shoes of a character he’s followed as an audience member and reader for years. “Not only is it a huge part of who Brad [Fraser] is, but it feels like a huge part of who I am, as gay and 51,” he says. “The hardest thing about reading a Brad Fraser play is the amount of blushing I do because the identification is constant. There is an aloneness that I just really identify with, and that I think Brad is incredibly courageous about.”
McIlroy, like Fraser, doesn’t see the shock value that seems to concern others with True Love Lies. “Underneath, there is truth and justice and love,” he says.