When I go to a Brad Fraser play I think of two of my favourite things: Archie comics and my soap opera, The Young and the Restless.
I have had a 30-year relationship with both pop cultural institutions. Comic books and the intense rollercoaster of emotion that soaps provide satisfy very basic needs for me. I get to live vicariously through the lives of others and, the best part, I can close the book or switch off the television when I’ve had enough.
The difference between the direct, at times raw, emotion of a soap or a comic book and a Fraser play is that Fraser gets to say everything that isn’t allowed in mainstream television and comics. He gets to speak to his own particular interests around overt sexuality and the often cartoonish situations we find ourselves in when we are forced to deal with a culture still profoundly divided over same-sex union.
In True Love Lies at the Factory Theatre, Fraser’s quip-filled tragicomic dialogue mixed with his superb, fast-paced direction has the cast replicating comic book timing with incredible finesse. Profoundly efficient and visually stunning sets and props by Bretta Garecke are used in an impressive and articulate manner that melds the action of the suburban home with a posh restaurant run by David McMillan.
One second the nuclear family is eating dinner, the next second a family member is being fucked by the restaurateur — same table but in a different setting. It is all chaos and confusion within the domiciles of those populating a Fraser sitcom-cum-family-drama-cum-explosive sexcapade.
McMillan is a very sexy and very sexualized middle-aged man played with suave self assurance and thoughtful emotional drive by David W Keeley.
Fraser’s blocking and scene-to-scene blurring infuses the play with rapid-fire action-packed timing that simultaneously amuses, titillates and enlightens. The audience is presented with a tour de force of clever dialogue and movement that embraces strands of global proportions. When David is pacing the stage on his cell phone discussing a recent terrorist attack one line stands out as a symbolic connection to the action at hand: “Has anyone claimed responsibility? Terrorists are the only ones who do anymore.” Ultimately all of Fraser’s characters attempt to claim responsibility for their actions, but in the end all is chaos, with positive possibility looming precariously upon some unknown horizon.
The cast has embraced this breakneck pacing and given us superb tragic comic-book characters who can reduce us to both tears and laughter at the drop of their pants. Andrew Craig’s Royce is a superb study in a kind of marginalized petulance that reaches its breaking point in the face of homophobic misidentification while Susanna Fournier’s Madison, the self-confessed “slut,” is a fine study in comic confession as she makes no apologies for her fabulous sex-starved ways. Julie Stewart as Carolyn and Ashley Wright as Kane provide plausible and exciting transformations from doting parents to reluctant bi-curious fornicators.
Fraser has always been a bit of a bad boy in Canadian theatre. This constant critic, comic-book lover and soap-opera addict is thankful that a Canadian playwright of international significance with productions of his plays worldwide has been able to get his overt messages about gay life out there for one and all to see. We’re certainly not going to get it in our daytime soaps, favourite sitcoms or our Archie comics in as raw, well-crafted and exciting a way, anytime soon.