In Brad Fraser’s most recent play, True Love Lies, 20-year-old Madison applies for a job as a waiter at a new restaurant only to find that David, the owner, used to be her father’s lover. Shocked, Madison’s younger brother Royce takes to calling their dad a fudge packer. For his part, Kane, the dad, is not keen on meeting up with David again, but his wife Carolyn insists on inviting her old rival for dinner. The family falls apart after that, but, in Fraser’s view, that’s a good thing.
Reached by phone in his Edmonton home, Fraser, who is one of Canada’s best-known, most controversial playwrights thanks to works such as Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, says: “It’s all about the mysterious stranger. It’s one of the classic tropes of drama. David is just glamorous and different enough to get everyone’s attention. I think, to the family, David represents a kind of freedom that they all want some experience of.”
To a large degree, the freedom in question is erotic and it includes the freedom from limiting labels. In the play, when David refers to himself as gay, Madison comes back with, “Gay is so over. The word doesn’t really mean anything anymore. Like Negro or Jewess. It’s all just sex.”
Fraser doesn’t entirely agree with Madison. “Being gay is just as stigmatized as ever,” he says, “maybe even more so these days. A lot more people are working to take gay rights away and to suppress rights.” But he agrees that sexuality is fluid: “Sexuality isn’t always just black-and-white. It can change. Contextually, and based on different people, we can have very different experiences than we ever thought that we would have.” In True Love Lies, which is being produced here by Touchstone Theatre, the grey areas get downright muddy when Madison finds herself getting hot for the man who used to do her father, and David can’t help but notice the similarities between his new young friend and the man who was once his lover.
As some of the characters unleash their libidos—and the script does leave room for the asexual and the reserved—they open the play to an exploration of the relationship between kindness and the truth. When one has screwed around in a messy way, must one always come clean or is fibbing sometimes more compassionate? Fraser answers by talking about his life in the theatre. “When you’re doing a show, you fall in love with your cast members, and you’re all out of town, and you’re probably all drinking a lot. Almost inevitably, someone ends up in bed with someone they shouldn’t and it’s very much in-the-moment and a one-time thing. Do you tell your partner about that when the only thing it’s going to do is hurt their feelings? In that kind of case, I don’t think you do tell the truth. Doing so can be a very, very selfish act.”
In True Love Lies, freedom is about more than the liberty to boff at will and then lie about it. For Madison’s mother, Carolyn, freedom is about the possibility of leaving a relationship that has run its course. Carolyn says, “When you fall in love with someone, you have to believe it’s forever. It’s not real otherwise.” But, according to David, who is, in many ways, the play’s sage: “There are very few relationships that are meant to last forever. And if they do it’s never without major renovation.” Speaking on his own behalf, Fraser says: “There are some people on this earth who will pair-bond with one person and that’s it and that’s how it will be for the rest of their lives. But my experience is that they’re almost all alcoholics by about year 20. Seriously.
“I don’t think that David’s saying that commitment is impossible,” he continues. “He’s saying that it tends to be transitory for a lot of people.” For Fraser, the love that Kane and David, and Carolyn and Kane have for one another is real. But he adds: “I think that’s the story of the parents’ marriage: they reach a point where they go, ‘We’re finished. Whatever we came together to do, we’ve done it.’ Love is transitory and you should really enjoy it while you can because there’s no guarantee that it won’t become something else that you have no control over.”
Much younger versions of David and Kane appear in 1989’s Unidentified Human Remains, although you don’t need to know that earlier play to enjoy this one. When asked what sparked him to revisit these characters, Fraser says, “I got a phone call from a guy who I had a very protracted relationship with in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He’s now married and has children and he said he just wanted to call and tell me that everything that happened in our relationship is very important in how he deals with his family and his kids. And I thought, ‘Oh, isn’t that a nice thing to do,’ and then I hung up the phone and went, ‘What if…?’ ”
True Love Lies runs at the Cultch Historic Theatre from tonight (September 22) until October 1.