Brad Fraser is both going abroad and having a homecoming this month.
The Canadian playwright's latest 5 @ 50 - about five female friends dealing with addiction and infidelity - gets its world premiere this week at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, while his 2009 comedy True Love Lies makes its way on stage at the Citadel Theatre in his hometown of Edmonton later this month under the direction of Siminovitch Prize-nominated director Ron Jenkins.
Theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck spoke to the outspoken playwright of such hits as Poor Super Man and Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love in Toronto before his departure for England.
Many of your plays are steeped in testosterone. What made you decide to write a play with an all-female cast?
When I was auditioning for True Love Lies in Toronto a couple of years ago, there were so many good actresses that came in to read for the mother, and I just thought, "This is ridiculous. Most of them haven't worked for years and they're dying for a part." I thought, "The next thing I do has got to acknowledge these fabulous 50-year-olds." That was my initial impulse.
Though you live in Toronto, you've had your recent plays premiere at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. Why's that?
It's a beautiful theatre. They're the major regional [theatre]for Manchester, so they have terrific facilities and they really spend time and care on every level of the play. They have real money - they don't make me rehearse for only three weeks and then have $45 for a set. Manchester's been very welcoming to me. It's been very positive about the work, things sell well there, and because I don't live there I haven't actually alienated everyone in town over the years.
Tell me about your relationship with artistic director Braham Murray.
He made a commitment to me that no artistic director has in Canada has, which is basically: Look, even if it's not your best play or your most brilliant play, we still think it's good enough to produce and to explore, because we know that will lead to the next brilliant one. It does give me a sense of having a place where I can take chances.
There seems to be strong link between Manchester and Canadian playwrights. It popped up on my radar in 2009 when both you and Judith Thompson were up for best play of the year at the Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards.
My play Snake in Fridge actually won that award in 2001. Also Ronnie Burkett and Daniel MacIvor have both done very well in Manchester when they're touring. I'm not sure why. Because it doesn't have the pressures of London, things aren't so expensive and there aren't so many people, there's a willingness to take a chance in Manchester.
Back to Canada, what does it mean for you to have True Love Lies produced in Alberta? It's at the Citadel this month and Calgary's Alberta Theatre Projects have announced it for next season.
I kind of lost touch with Alberta theatrically for a while. I got pulled into Toronto and then into England. I think it's very cool that I'm going back to the Citadel with this play - I've never been on the Shoctor or the Rice stages and that was always my dream when I started out playwriting. So here I am 30 years later - I've at least made it to the small stage, and I celebrate that. I'm really glad my friends and family will be able to see the show.
I hadn't realized that your plays for adults had not been produced at the Citadel before.
When I wrote True Love Lies, I made a conscious decision to write something fairly commercial that wasn't going to turn a lot of people off - not in a mercenary sense, just because I'm over 50 now and I'm not really interested in being the "bad boy of Canadian theatre" any more. It seems to me I've worn that crown for an long time and I'd very much like to put it aside. It's a way a lot of people, particularly reviewers, have of minimizing the things I say and do.
Now I'm going back in my mind trying to figure out if I used those words in my review of -
You did. Everybody did.
It's like your nickname.
Yeah, but it's sort of like being called skinny, you know? Yes, there was a time when I was skinny, but it was an awfully long time ago.
This interview has been condensed and edited.