‘Dangerous’ playwright returns to Theater LaB Houston
by Donalevan Maines • Photo by David Hawe
“Yes, we have Valentine’s Day in Canada,” playwright Brad Fraser assures me. “I usually spend it having sex with someone special. If I can’t find someone special, I’ll find someone easy.”
That sounds like something David might say, a comically cynical gay character who scandalized audiences in Fraser’s first play at Theater LaB Houston (TLH), Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. In 1993, Fraser’s stunningly edgy comedy-drama and its nudity and bold presentation of homosexuality helped buoy the fledgling TLH’s claim that its aim was to bring “dangerous theater” to Houston.
Three years later, dangerous David returned as the lead character in Fraser’s shocking follow-up Poor Super Man, which upped the ante, cutting sharper and deeper when David bedded his bi-curious, married boss.
Beginning Feb. 10, TLH audiences get to see David again, this time in Fraser’s True Love Lies. He re-enters the life of a former lover who’s now married to a woman and they have a son and a daughter. It promises to be another fast-paced flush of caustic comedy and heartwrenching drama that earns its flood of emotions.
Time magazine has named three Fraser plays, including Unidentified Human Remains and Poor Super Man, to its annual list of the year’s best plays.
“TLH was kind enough to bring me in for their production of Poor Super Man,” says Fraser. “Being from Alberta, which is the Texas of Canada, I was unfazed by the redneck and artistic qualities that lie so close together in the city.”
Many fans probably wonder whether David is the playwright’s alter ego. But Fraser says that David “is more of a literary doppelganger who’s my age and shares certain traits, but is much more attractive, charming, and urgent, as all literary characters should be.
“I’m comfortable and confident in who I am, so it’s not a big deal if people get the wrong impression.”
Also, David is a painter and a waiter, while Fraser wears so many more hats.
“I’m known as a writer, director, host, producer, actor, artist, and photographer,” Fraser says on his website, bradfraser.net. “All my life I’ve enjoyed drawing, painting, sculpting, sewing, building, any activity that involves creation and transformation.
“I believe creativity benefits from diversity,” he adds. “Any creative activity feeds another creative activity or impulse, even if you’re not aware of it at the time.”
Creators of the original British TV series Queer as Folk have acknowledged that explicit gay content in Fraser’s plays were an inspiration for the show that led to the historic American version on Showtime. In the domestic version’s final three seasons, Fraser worked as a writer, story editor, and, ultimately, supervising producer. Fraser penned eight scripts of Showtime’s Queer as Folk, in what he describes as “easily one of the most interesting and creative jobs I’ve had.
“I related to Brian for his isolation, Michael for his nerdiness, Emmet for his femininity, Ted for his squareness, and Justin for his stupidity,” Fraser tells me. “I also related to the lesbian couple as a couple, and to Debbie as a middle-aged woman looking for love. They were a great group of characters and I was honored to work with them.”
Fraser also continues to work with characters he created years ago. In addition to David, TLH audiences met Kane, the father in True Love Lies, when he was a sexually confused teenage busboy in Unidentified Human Remains. In one scene, David led Kane on a daring adventure atop a building overlooking their town. In another, David took Kane to see a kinky, psychic prostitute.
The characters also courted danger by chancing sexual encounters amid the constant threat of AIDS. In addition, a serial killer who terrorized the city ended up being one of the play’s small circle of acquaintances. David shared his bed with a married man and his apartment with an ex-girlfriend who was being wooed by both a lovesick lesbian and a male bartender. Several times, one character or another expressed the feeling that “everybody lies.”
In Poor Super Man, David returned as a financially successful painter who was suffering artistic block. In an attempt to revive his creative juices, he turned to his former vocation—waiting tables—and began a relationship wrought with deceit but brimming with exhilaration. His roommate was an HIV-positive transvestite afraid that she would die before she could get a sex change. Another character was a straight woman who clung to David in kinship over the AIDS-related deaths of so many of their mutual friends.
TLH’s production of True Love Lies finds David in midlife as the owner of a restaurant where Kane’s daughter, age 21, applies for a job. She and her teenage brother are amazed to find out that their father once had sex with David. Further revelations, at breakneck speed, threaten to doom Kane’s family.
TLH founder, Gerald LaBita, explains, “Their fashionable lifestyle starts to fall around their ears, as we look on, wondering what can possibly go wrong next!” LaBita adds, “It’s a stunnng, dark, and dangerous comedy, an entertaining and touching exposé of their lives and long-held secrets.”
Toward the end of Poor Super Man, a character states that David “just figured out he can’t leap buildings with a single bound.” In all, indications are that in True Love Lies David has matured from the emotionally empty, fearful man whose clever quips helped keep emotions at bay.
Fraser also cops to growing up since his early 1980s “drug period” and mid-1990s “pornographic period.”
“I lead a quiet, satisfying life with a number of interesting and nurturing relationships, and on a typical day I write, work out, and interact with friends,” he tells me. “Sometimes I party, but mostly I hang out with friends.
“I’m 50,” he explains. “My clubbing days are behind me.
“If you check out my website, you can see the transformation with more detail,” he says. “My life’s been a grand adventure with many triumphs and tragedies, and I hope that is reflected in my appearance. I’ve earned my eye bags.”
In what seems to me something the older, wiser but still-naughty David might say, Fraser adds, “Everything else is no one’s biz but my own.”
True Love Lies plays Feb. 10–March 13 at Theater LaB Houston, 1706 Alamo, 713/868-7516, theaterlabhouston.com.
Local actors revel in TLH’s ‘dangerous theater’
Two gay faves have claimed prize roles in True Loves Lies, to be directed by Jimmy Phillips at Theater LaB Houston (TLH).
Jonathan McVay, who wowed LGBT theater fans as Gould, Big Edie’s accompanist/confidant, in last year’s Grey Gardens musical at Stages, plays David, and Mary Hooper claws amid the carnage as Carolyn, wife of Kane, whose long-ago affair with David sparks the action in Brad Fraser’s follow-up to his TLH hits, Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love and Poor Super Man.
Hooper starred in David Sedaris’ The Book of Liz at TLH, where she also shared the stage with McVay in the outrageous comedy Cooking with Elvis. McVay also played Mickey in Blood Brothers and Raoul in Eating Raoul, the Musical at TLH.
“These kind of roles are what actors dream about getting, and they do not come along that often,” says TLH founder, Gerald LaBita. “It’s a real pleasure to have them be a part of this production. Both have played a tremendous part of our artistic success.”
Mark Ivy, who impressed Stages audiences last spring in his professional debut as a teenage driver who kills a young boy in Rabbit Hole, has landed the plum role of Kane and Carolyn’s troubled son, Royce. Steve Bullitt plays Kane, and Chelsea McCurdy is cast as Madison.
LaBita and TLH share a successful history with Fraser, who is sometimes called the “bad boy” of Canadian theater.
“In the summer of 1993, when I began putting together our very first season together, I had already made the decision to include Brad’s Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love,” LaBita explains. “And in what seemed to be a major role of the dice,
I also decided it was to be our first production in a whole season I defined as ‘dangerous theater.’
“This play was either going to close us down or put us on the map,” he recalls. “Well, Houston was ready, and 17 years later we’re still on Alamo Street taking chances and offering Houstonians theatrical productions you just might not get to see anywhere else in Houston except at TLH.”
Poor Super Man was TLH’s longest-running show, drawing ecstatic crowds for more than eight weeks
“Brad and I have stayed in touch, usually meeting up in Toronto when I’m there in the summers for the Toronto Fringe Festival,” LaBita explains. “He also invited me to Manchester, England, to catch the world premiere production [of True Love Lies] in February 2009. Then it became a matter of scheduling our production after the Toronto production, which took place this past October.” —D.M.
Donalevan Maines also profiles Clifford Pugh in this issue of OutSmart magazine.