Arts & Entertainment
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Zee Zee Theatre thrilled to launch new Brad Fraser play in Canada

Gay playwright deliberately wrote 5 @ 50 for an all-female cast

Beatrice Zeillinger (left to right), Deborah Williams, Veena Sood, Diane Brown and Donna Yamamoto star in Brad Fraser’s new play 5 @ 50. Credit: Victoria Black/Zee Zee Theatre

Working on a Brad Fraser play has been a dream of Cameron Mackenzie’s since he was a teenager.

“Part of my self-directed education into queer culture was finding as many gay movies to watch as possible,” says the artistic director of Vancouver’s Zee Zee Theatre. “Somewhere around 16, I rented Love and Human Remains. I loved the dark opulence of it all and I was thrilled about it being Canadian.”

The film is based on the play — Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love — that shot Fraser to Canadian theatrical stardom in 1990. Centred on a group of 20-somethings fumbling through life in post-oil crash Edmonton while a serial killer stalks the town, the sex-filled show ran for more than a year in Toronto after it opened.

Since then, Fraser’s works have been translated into multiple languages and produced on stages from New York to Buenos Aires to Sydney.

That Fraser chose Zee Zee Theatre to produce the Canadian premiere of his new play, 5 @ 50, is something of a coup for the small Vancouver theatre company (which is co-producing the play with another local company, Ruby Slippers Theatre).

(Brad Fraser’s new play will see its Canadian premiere in Vancouver on May 12, 2016./Drasko Bogdanovic/Zee Zee Theatre)

Many of Fraser’s works (including Unidentified Human Remains and its sequel Poor Superman) have been semi-autobiographical. But in recent years he’s turned his attention to other issues.

“As I’ve aged, I’ve come to find myself progressively less fascinating, and found others around me far more interesting,” Fraser says. “I think the occasional move away from autobiographical material is healthy. In this case I wanted to step completely outside myself and create characters that were wholly original.”

In the case of 5 @ 50, the spark came not from the desire to tell a specific story, but the realization that older women lack roles. While auditioning women to play a mid-40s character in his Toronto production of True Love Lies, Fraser was floored by the number of actresses competing for the role. So he set out to address the problem by writing his first play with an all-female cast.

5 @ 50 centres on Olivia, a hard-drinking woman who’s just hit the half century mark. After she loses control at her birthday party, her three besties team up to stage an intervention; an unwelcome gesture for both her and her long-time partner Nora. But as the action unfolds, it becomes clear that everyone is battling an addiction in one form or another.

While many established playwrights would balk at the thought of handing their script to a less-experienced director, intergenerational collaboration has been a recurring theme for Fraser.

“I’ve worked with younger artists throughout my career, most often as actors and designers, but occasionally directors. I’m very excited about a number of the young directors whose works I’ve been seeing and whom I’ve been speaking to recently. I think it’s very important for artists to work with collaborators from all ages, and all stages of a career.”

“I’m already a very collaborative director that looks to the actors and production team for input,” Mackenzie adds. “But working on the North American premiere of a Brad Fraser play is still a huge personal thrill for the little 16-year-old queer that still lives inside me.”