— L-R: Katharine Venour, Andrew McIlroy, Greg Armstrong-Morris. Photo: Emily Cooper
TRUE LOVE LIES
Brad Fraser shook up the Canadian theatre in the late 1980s with Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. His in-yer-face tale of homo- and heterosexual love, sex, angst and serial killing in Edmonton was bold and dark, sexy, cynical and violent. Although I’ve never been a huge fan of the play, I’ve always admired its chutzpah.
In True Love Lies Fraser picks up two characters from Unidentified Human Remains and charts their lives, along with the changes in the zeitgeist, twenty years later. It’s a lighter play, a comedy, though with dark streaks; it retains Fraser’s irreverent wit and his sexual explicitness. And it offers up provocative ideas about our evolving notions of family and sexuality in the early 21st century. But Katrina Dunn’s Touchstone Theatre production does it few favours with a breathless pace and superficial comic take on the play’s central relationship.
The character David McMillan appears to be Fraser’s persona. A cynically wise, magnetic gay man, he turns up in a number of Fraser’s plays, including Unidentified Human Remains, where he and the younger, more naïve Kane become lovers. In True Love Lies, Kane (Greg Armstrong-Morris) now has a wife, Carolyn (Katharine Venour), and two (sort of) grown children: outspoken sexual adventuress Madison (Lara Gilchrist) and her younger brother, sullen high schooler Royce (Anton Lipovetsky). When Madison goes for a waitress job in David’s new restaurant, she and Royce learn that their father spent two years in a gay relationship with David (Andrew McIlroy), which ended when (and possibly because) Kane met Carolyn. David’s return to the play’s unidentified city throws Kane’s family into turmoil.
All the characters have issues—Kane’s hypocrisy, Carolyn’s passivity, Madison’s angry promiscuity, Royce’s depression and victimization, David’s loneliness—and more. David catalyzes changes in all their lives, mostly for the better. Fraser explores their situations with often outrageous, hilarious humour, but with a solid sense of reality.
Almost from the opening moment of the Touchstone production that reality is shattered as the actors race around the stage as if on speed, speaking way faster than necessary. The pace says farce or sitcom, as do Michael Rinaldi’s musical cues that cover the many quick blackouts between Fraser’s short scenes. McIlroy’s somewhat gloomy David is the still centre around whom Kane’s family ultimately revolves. Observing Kane and Carolyn, he thinks he’s done better than the heteros; and the exaggerated, comedy-killing acting of Venour and Armstrong-Morris in representing their marital relationship shows David to be ever so right.
The kids in this show save the day. Madison is the play’s marquee character. A self-described slut and gay man in a woman’s (beautiful) body, she has, as David says, “no internal censor at all.” Gilchrist could find more subtlety and variety in her delivery but she makes Madison a dynamo whose blunt sexuality drives the action. Lipovetsky’s Royce, whose dry slacker humour masks a desperate unhappiness, takes the top honours. In the end, despite a questionable diagnosis of his central problem, Royce appears the play’s most fully realized character, and Lipovetsky’s finely controlled performance has much to do with that.