Brad Fraser to premiere new play in Edmonton

Brad Fraser GigCity EdmontonThere’s a long list of gifted artists that Edmonton has lost that we still mourn. They’re not dead – they just moved away to greater success in Toronto where the hopelessly hipster citizens imagine that all Westerners hang hitch balls on their pick-up trucks. And they hardly ever write. How dare they?!

But then there are those who just can’t seem to stay away.

Along with people like Moe Berg and k.d. lang, playwright Brad Fraser has been spotted hanging around his old hometown lately. He’s preparing for the premiere of his new play, Kill Me Now, playing Sept. 6-22 at La Cite Francophone to kick off Workshop West’s new season. Though he comes often to visit family and friends, he says he hasn’t directed a play here since 1998, having since made a name for himself in Toronto and around the world.

So why Edmonton, and why now? It was either Workshop West or “Oh, fuck, I have to open in England again,” he says.

“I don’t like opening new plays in Toronto,” Fraser goes on. “Toronto is not a very benevolent market for the new Canadian playwright anymore. It hasn’t been for quite some time.”

Part of it for him, he adds, is his “combative” relationship with Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian, who has never given one of Fraser’s plays a positive review, according to the 54-year-old playwright, yet they have still done well. He tees off, “I think he’s really a great danger to new plays and has the taste of a lovestruck 14-year-old – and I don’t think that’s been very good for my work.”

So you can see that not much has changed since Fraser cut such a wide swath through the Edmonton theatre scene back in the day. His best known work, “Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love,” was created in and inspired by Edmonton, and has since enjoyed success on stages around the world and even in a 1993 feature film. The work was considered “controversial” for its sexual and violent content. The label has followed him ever since. A follow-up, Poor Super Man, was temporarily banned in Cincinnati. Kill Me Now is already drawing controversial buzz. Some are calling it a “comedy about euthanasia.”

Patrick Lundeen and Melissa Thingelstad in Kill Me Now (photo by Brad Fraser)

That’s not entirely true, Fraser explains: “The play deals with euthanasia, the play deals with disability, the play deals with an ongoing negative condition in someone’s body, but it isn’t necessarily about euthanasia. It’s a play about family and how we need to take care of our loved ones and how that can be very challenging, and in the end the question for me is: how far are you willing to go in the name of love?”

Fraser cites two personal experiences. He says he recently became close to a disabled family member whose single mother is the kid’s sole caregiver: “I became very aware of just how difficult it is for people who deal with family members and loved ones with disabilities and how little support there is for them, and just how difficult their lives really are, and that really affected me.” Secondly, a grandmother died two years ago under difficult circumstances, which made him think, “If I were in the very same position, I would like to have something in place to say, ‘don’t let me die like this.’ There’s got to be a better, more merciful, more humane way to do this.”

Offending the right people

Controversy followed Fraser from Edmonton to Toronto, and controversy followed him into social media, where in the last five years, especially on Facebook, he has become an alternative media source as relevant as CNN for his almost 5,000 followers. The reach may be far greater due to sharing on multiple friends’ networks. The admitted lifelong news junkie posts up to dozens of times each day, time permitting, often focusing on stories pertaining to gay rights, politics or any hot button social issue you’d care to name. Some posts are personal. Fraser followers can learn, for instance, that he adopted a street cat he named Maggie; that he jokes that he wishes he would’ve waited to come out of the closet so he could make a statement about the Russian Olympics like Belle Brockhoff; and that the Globe and Mail will not be coming out to Edmonton to review Kill Me Now, prompting his response: “Thank you Toronto’s National Newspaper – you make it so easy not to visit your site or pick up your rag at all.”

This guy has never been very friendly with the media.

Hypocrisy and injustice – wherever they occur – are the usual the targets of Fraser’s rampant Facebookery. His social commentary often amounts to a simple “Fuck [insert subject of condemnation here]” Recent Fuck subjects include Barack Obama on the possible Syrian missile strike, the Church, Pat Robertson, and a man who faked his own gay-bashing. Cue heated discussions.

“I’m looking for bullshit wherever it is,” Fraser explains. “It exists in a lot of places and in a lot of people’s attitudes. A lot of people get very upset with some of the stuff I post, but at the same time they don’t de-friend me. They’re still reading the page every day and getting as pissed off as ever.” He adds, “I don’t want to offend the wrong people, but I don’t mind offending the right people at all.”

Fraser says he’s also been using Facebook to dispel the myth that Edmonton is a redneck backwater because, he says, “Edmonton itself is a fairly progressive, fairly artistic, creative city.” Locals can’t help but feel good about that. He even says he’s “looking to come back out West to work with the people I know out here and get in touch with the audience out here.” But then he says he’s going back to school this fall for his Master’s degree at the University of Toronto, because he has a “few ideas” about Canadian theatre he wants to test.

How Brad Fraser can be in two places at once remains a mystery.