(Photo courtesy of Trudie Lee Photography)
The Truth in True Love Lies
Having performed in Fraser's works, an artist finds directing him is a case of finding balance
When approached by ATP to direct “True Love Lies” I found myself surprisingly keen to explore Brad Fraser’s work from the director’s perspective. My past experiences with Fraser’s work have always been as an actor, having survived two tumultuous, yet highly successful productions of “Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love,” a wild fringe production of “Chainsaw Love” and two fabulously unique productions of “The Ugly Man.” I know from past experience, Fraser’s work can be challenging on a variety of different levels. Depending on the play, his work is often interpreted as risky, titillating, witty, and sometimes superficial, yet like Noel Coward, Fraser’s work has tremendous depth and a large dose of truth. In each of Fraser’s plays you will find an undercurrent of pain, betrayal, desire and need.
First and foremost was to respect the themes represented in the script.
So when I agreed to direct “True Love Lies” I decided there were several essential factors required in order to make this production a success. First and foremost was to respect the themes represented in the script. I was not interested in creating a speedy cartoon rendition of a dysfunctional nuclear family that audiences could laugh at and easily walk away from, nor did I want the production to swing the opposite way and become an overly precious drama. It was essential that I find balance. I made a pact with myself that only honesty would be allowed in the rehearsal room, only true emotions and actions were to be found on the stage, and if all those factors came into play, “True Love Lies” would be presented truthfully, hitting a personal chord with anyone who has ever been in a relationship, been part of a family, watched children move forward and away, struggled with identity, found themselves aging alone, had a secret, told a lie, felt betrayed, or discovered love’s mercurial powers shift and change through time and circumstance.
Perfect, I thought, together they can support each other during what can be an intense and intimidating journey...
It takes a special kind of actor to embrace the harshness of an honest rehearsal hall. Not sure I could have embraced it as fully as the actors I had the pleasure of working with on this production but I do remember respecting those few directors who were honest enough to tell me when they didn’t buy what I was doing. So I began a search for five actors who were confident human beings, who had a natural ability to capture the inherent wit and rhythms found in the text, and who had a fearless approach to work and demands I was about to place on them. I found two exceptional actors to play Carolyn and Kane (the parents) relatively easily, what was harder was to find two emerging actors capable of tackling the young adult roles of Royce, a socially battered young man struggling to find his place in a world obsessed with sex and Madison, a promiscuous young woman with a fiery attitude towards sexually conquering everyone she meets without the emotional maturity to deal with the responsibility of her actions. After a bit of a search I came across two recent BFA graduates from the University of Victoria. Two amazing actors who come from Calgary and who just happen to be friends. Perfect, I thought, together they can support each other during what can be an intense and intimidating journey from theatre school into the fast paced pressure of that first professional gig. As it turns out they were a great support to each other through some extremely challenging rehearsal days.
I also had to find an exceptional actor, who was sexually appealing, and who had an inherent understanding of what it means to be a single, middle-aged gay man. It wasn’t essential that I find an actor who is gay but it was essential that I find an actor who could tap into the essence of what it means to be over 40, single and gay.
Roger Schultz and I had several meetings to discuss how to deal with the spatial challenges of the piece.
Once I found what I perceived as the dream cast, I began a wonderful collaboration with the design team. Roger Schultz and I had several meetings to discuss how to deal with the spatial challenges of the piece. I knew I wanted a contemporary, urban, upscale world - an environment that gave the sense of a large urban city with interior settings that were versatile enough so that the characters and the action defined the environment. This meant coming up with a cost effective set where the main playing area doubled as the family kitchen one moment and immediately transformed itself into the restaurant the next without confusing the audience. We decided to gut the theatre and give it a warehouse feel, which could work for both a restaurant and an interior designer’s home. Scott Reid’s lighting design enhanced the starkness of the exterior street scenes, provided a city landscape when needed and created spatial differences between the family home (stark white lighting through glass walls) and the restaurant (cool blue lighting through glass walls).
It wasn’t until we got into the theatre, that we realized the expansive nature of the set went against us as we shifted from one scene to the next in silence.
Sound was a tremendous challenge on this show. In a discussion with sound designer Peter Moller, we decided to forego traditional transitional music between scenes. Instead we decided to incorporate environmental sound to underscore scenes, an exterior city soundscape to underscore street scenes, kitchen soundscape to underscore all the restaurant scenes and live sound (cutlery and dishes) for the family scenes. It wasn’t until we got into the theatre, that we realized the expansive nature of the set went against us as we shifted from one scene to the next in silence. Without transitional music to glue it together the actors faced a silent ‘purgatory’ state while transitioning out of one scene and into the next. Pretty dreadful, so three days before we opened Moller was challenged to come up with 40 plus music transitions, which he did with tremendous grace and what I’m sure wasn’t but appeared to be the greatest of ease.
Like many Fraser productions, “True Love Lies” was a fast and furious trip. However, this time I’ve discovered a newfound respect for both his writing and courageous theatre companies, designers and artists who are still willing to take a few risks.