Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sunday Feature: (American) Steven Patterson on his Canadian Connection (especially Brad Fraser)

O Canada! Why we love our neighbour to the North...
...(and Brad Fraser in particular)
by Steven Patterson

Steven Patterson has performed both Off- and Off-Off-Broadway in NYC, and regionally with such theatres as Kaliyuga Arts (which he founded with his husband, John Sowle, in 1986), South Coast Repertory, Capital Repertory, TheatreWorks, Lexington Conservatory Theatre, Chenango River Theatre, Centenary Stage Company, Depot Theatre, Contemporary Opera Marin, and the Oregon, Orlando, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festivals. A few of his favourite roles have been Lear, Prospero, Michael Williams in Henry V, Austin Wiggin in The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World, David in Poor Super Man, Judi Boswell in How to Pray, The Creature in Frankenstein, and Jean in Beauty, a one-man show inspired by the life and works of Jean Genet which he created, performed, and toured with internationally for four yearsHe currently resides in Catskill, NY.

In a recent column for Xtra, Brad Fraser stated that he finds himself reading a lot of young-adult fiction because most “old-adult” fiction doesn’t really concern itself with things like plot and character anymore. Gotta say that pretty much sums up why we find his plays such a tonic. So much of the critically-acclaimed new work my husband John and I see in New York these days tends to evaporate the moment we step out onto the street once the performance is over. Never an issue with Brad’s plays. More than any other playwright working at the moment, Brad sends audiences into the lobby at intermission eager to get back to their seats to find out “what happens next??” And not just because his plots are so thwacking good, but because he’s also given us such wonderful, complex, multi-layered characters and put them in situations where we truly care about what’s going to happen to them. Lemme step back a few years.

the show itself was pretty out there and we were never certain quite how audiences were going to react to it

All the way to 1995, in fact. Our company, Kaliyuga Arts, had been producing shows in L.A. and San Francisco (where we were living at the time). We’d just had a conspicuous success with a solo piece I created for the 1994 San Francisco Fringe Festival inspired by the life and works of Jean Genet called BEAUTY. But at the same time we were dealing with SRO audiences and lines down the block, something felt off. The crowds were almost exclusively gay men and a large part of the show’s appeal seemed to stem solely from its sexually graphic nature and its abundance of nudity. The following summer, we loaded up the back of our pick-up and (not without trepidation) headed cross-country to present the play a second time at the Montreal Fringe Festival. Trepidation because we were heading into a Francophile culture with a particularly American take on an iconic French author. And also because the show itself was pretty out there and we were never certain quite how audiences were going to react to it. The total embrace we felt in Montreal (both from audiences and critics) was visceral and immediate. I sat in a corner of the Festival’s Beer Tent following our first performance literally sobbing with relief. As we stood in line for other Fringe shows that summer (which included Rick Miller’s first outing with MACHOMER and the incomparable Jill Dowse’s X: THE RISE AND FALL OF AN ASYLUM STAR, little old ladies in their 80s would come up to me and tell me how beautiful and moving they’d found the piece. I was constantly having to reassure myself that they hadn’t misidentified me and that they really were talking about the show where I sliced open the palm of my hand and simulated masturbating with the blood. Finally, finally the play was being perceived as we’d intended it to be; as “theatre” and not just as “some guy with his pants off.” And by an amazingly diverse and literate crowd, not just the show’s natural niche audience.

One further payoff from that summer visit to Montreal is that we were browsing at a bookstore during our off hours and I happened to pick up a copy of Brad Fraser’s POOR SUPER MAN. I can still recall the galvanic shock that ran through me the first time I read it. Here was a play as messy and mixed-up and vibrant as the lives most of us actually lead, with characters who did terrible, loving, and unforgivable things to one another. We knew we HAD to do it at some point. Our 1997 production in San Francisco remains, for me, as terrific as anything we’ve ever produced, probably the finest performance I’ve ever given, with an ensemble as utterly ideal as any I’ve ever worked with. Paul Anelli’s Shannon, Janet Keller’s Kryla, Marin Van Young’s Violet, and Erik Kever Ryle’s Matt tore my heart (and everybody else’s) out each night. And I couldn’t wait to get out onstage with them and be David McMillan for a couple hours.

I believe this may be the first time a black actor has taken on the mantle and it’s adding some intriguing nuances to our production

Don’t know why it’s taken us so long to revisit Brad’s work (well, moving to New York and building a house in the interim probably had something to do with it), but we’re finally back in rehearsals for one of his plays again. We’ve been hoping to do TRUE LOVE LIES for several years now, but our major obstacle wound up being able to locate the right actor to play – David McMillan. The way his character has developed over the course of several plays has been phenomenal (and a real gift to any actor lucky enough to play him). But I felt that the direction he’d taken in his life between POOR SUPER MAN and TRUE LOVE LIES made him an uncomfortable fit for me as an actor (Kane feels much more me at this stage). There was another acquaintance who we felt might have been ideal for the role, but the direction his career has taken recently plus timing and scheduling issues made that impossible. Fortunately, I worked a couple years back with Kevin Craig West, our current David, in a production of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in Albany and he agreed to take us up on our offer to play the role. Not certain, but I believe this may be the first time a black actor has taken on the mantle and it’s adding some intriguing nuances to our production. 

TRUE LOVE LIES will open at Stageworks in Hudson, NY on May 9 and runs through the 19 and, once again, I can’t wait to get out onstage with this ensemble, speaking Brad’s words. Hope it won’t be so long between productions for us again – we’re certainly hoping that once his shattering new play KILL ME NOW premieres in Edmonton this fall that we’ll get the opportunity to mount it here in the States as soon as possible! Thanks, Canada!

True Love Lies at Stageworks runs from May 9-19

1 comment:

  1. We DID get to do the U.S. premiere of KILL ME NOW which wound up being yet another career highlight for me. Probably the most rich and astonishing contemporary work it's been my privilege to perform. And audiences here in the rural outback of upstate NY certainly agreed. Brad's a genius and a true national treasure, Canada. You're lucky to have, and to have produced, him.


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