A new play by “Queer as Folk” writer Brad Fraser being staged in New York
Brad Fraser, the outspoken, gay, Canadian playwright has always been very outspoken. Fraser has frequently addressed issues like the AIDS crisis, and society’s treatment—positive and negative—of gays and lesbians, particularly in light of the debate about same-sex marriage in Canada and the United States. In a recent interview, Fraser acknowledged that he is not one to shy away from controversy, including creating characters who “do not know who they are sexually.”
“I had a role to play, coming out in Canada when I did. If you were gay and did not speak loud and hard, you did not get people’s attention. That was how I was accustomed to being heard,” Fraser said. “I am still as angry now at 44 as I was at 32, but I use anger as fuel, not weaponry. It goes further. I choose my battles, and have become more diplomatic over the years. It’s a natural part of the aging process.”
The writer is back in the spotlight—and once again in people’s faces—with three concurrent projects. First, his play “Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love” is now being staged in New York. Second, Fraser directed “Leaving Metropolis,” a film version of his play “Poor Super Man,” which is now available on video/DVD. And third, Fraser continues his job as a writer for the hit television series “Queer as Folk.”
Despite his work on stage, in film, and on TV, Fraser has no worries about spreading himself too thin. He was not directly involved with the NY stage production of “Unidentified Human Remains,” although he conveyed his excitement about the revival of this hit play about a gay guy named David McMillan grappling with life challenges and relationships with friends and lovers.
“I don’t know how N.Y.C. is going to react to it, but I’m hoping it holds up,” Fraser said with a mix of anxiety and expectation. Originally staged in 1989, “Remains” should be familiar to anyone who saw Denys Arcand’s 1993 film version—written by Fraser—and entitled “Love and Human Remains.” The stage production, “is very different from the film in a lot of ways, but too many to describe,” Fraser says, before acknowledging that the current version “updated it to set it in New York City, and changed place names and dates, but that’s all.”
Fraser said that it will be “interesting for people who have seen the film to see the play” because the pace and tone are drastically different. On stage, the short scenes and monologues jumping back and forth remain intact. For the film, they were stretched out and “opened up.”
“Remains” was a breakthrough for Fraser who wrote it under the pretext of “throw[ing] all the shit I was told about the theater out the window and telling everyone to fuck off!” According to the playwright, the show has never been out of production, and has been performed as a rock opera in Italy, and as a tragedy in Spain.
Meanwhile, the playwright’s “literary alter ego,” David McMillan—the hero of “Remains”—is also the lead character in Fraser’s film “Leaving Metropolis.” “He is a reflection of me, the character I relate to most,” the playwright said, who described “Metropolis” as “not a true sequel [to “Remains”] but an alternate universe for the character—the idea of David in another situation.”
Fraser’s strength as a writer is to feature damaged men and women who grapple with their sexuality, and find their place on the sexual spectrum between gay and straight. “We live in a world where people—especially Americans—like to put people in categories. You are gay, you do this…I write about people who are a lot more complex than this. Most people are elastic—they fall ‘in between’ because of their situation, time of life, etc.” Fraser asserted. “I can’t write about people who don’t have issues. The most interesting people blur lines and step outside of boundaries.”
In both “Remains” and the film “Leaving Metropolis,” Fraser features straight characters who he says “are completely out of touch with who they are, and end up hurting a great many people.” Likewise, his gay men “have to overcome their self-loathing, get beyond it.”
Shrewdly, the playwright uses elements from pop culture to imbue his work with meaning. From comic books and video games, to music, films, and television, his characters live in the moment, and talk realistically.
“I have always tried to write dialogue that truly reflects how people speak to one another,” Fraser said about developing the rhythm of his work. “I spend time listening to the words and sounds people make.”
With “Leaving Metropolis,” the playwright also got the opportunity to develop his story visually. In this erotic drama, the gay David (Troy Ruptash) takes a job as a waiter in a diner, owned by a married couple Matt (Vincent Corazza) and Violet (Cherilee Taylor). Before long, David and Matt begin a hot and heavy affair that has lasting consequences for everyone involved.
“ ‘Leaving Metropolis’ was not meant to be naturalistic or contemporary,” Fraser explained about his highly stylized movie. “When I knew I wouldn’t be able to use comic book imagery, I [gave] everyone a color key to provide a clear signal to the audience. David had bright, vibrant, daring colors to show that he was an artist and this is how he saw things.”
While the color scheme of the film is terrific, Fraser also coaxes great performances out of his cast of unknown actors. He describes some of the challenges he had as a director in casting the film. “It was hard to find actors to read for these roles in a predominantly gay film with sex scenes. A lot of people wouldn’t consider it. It takes exceptional actors.”
Even though he got the right performers, the director found that filming the sex scenes was pretty difficult. “I was never comfortable with it. The actors were concerned, rightly, about the nudity. On film, being naked involves leaving an image behind. I wouldn’t say the actors were comfortable with it, but they were professional. For me, I concentrated on the kissing. I wanted to see the real intimacy that went on—mouth to mouth contact—everything else followed naturally.”
One particular sequence involves Matt fucking David and Violet separately, but, as Fraser edits it, the scene fluidly shifts back and forth between the two couplings. “There was no time to rehearse it,” Fraser said. “The actors choreographed it on my hotel room bed with their clothes on. A lot of shots are staged with one actor sneaked in and out of the frame.” The result, however, is seamless and beautiful, and one of the film’s highlights.
Fraser is also involved in writing the fourth season of “Queer as Folk,” his second season with the hit show. He is one of four writers, not including the two head writers, and works on shaping the storylines, and, as he explains, “keeping the continuity and the characters connected.”
While the playwright enjoys being a part of the show’s team, he also appreciates being flexible enough to work in theatre and film.
“I could never work in just one medium,” he said. “I have too much to say.”