TRUE LOVE LIES
At the Cultch until Oct. 1
When a zipper goes south in a Brad Fraser play, you can be sure you're going to see some bare butt and simulated sex. True Love Lies is no exception.
Live, onstage, simulated sex is not my thing, but there's only one such scene in True Love Lies and it's pivotal to the plot. It's also critical to see the aftermath: no sweet after-good-sex cuddling but a hurried, embarrassed zipping up after guilt-producing sex.
Fraser takes gay men Kane (Greg Armstrong-Morris) and David (Andrew McIlroy), a couple of characters from his earlier Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, and shows them a couple decades later. Kane is now married to Carolyn (Katharine Venour) and has two kids-high school-aged Royce (Anton Lipovetsky and sexually promiscuous Madison (Lara Gilchrist) who's 20 and looking for work. What Kane and Carolyn have kept from the kids is that Kane was sexually and emotionally involved with David for several years before they were married.
When Madison answers an ad for a waitressing job, she meets restaurant owner David, recently back from a long time in New York, and she starts to connect the dots.
What doesn't ring true in this Touchstone Theatre production is, given that Madison and Royce are two savvy kids, they haven't suspected or figured out Dad might be-or might have been-homosexual. Under Katrina Dunn's direction, Armstrong-Morris's Kane is not just creative, artistic, funny and articulate, he really seems gay. So what's the big surprise when the kids find out? The artificially growly, sex-kitten stuff that goes on between 20year married Kane and Carolyn doesn't help, either. No wonder the kids are confused.
Like Unidentified Human Remains, True Love Lies is a collection of short scenes. Many, if not most, happen during meals so the actors are constantly whisking dishes onto the table and shortly thereafter, whisking them off. So fragmented are these scenes, we never get to know the characters. Why, for example, does bright and gorgeous Madison want, in her words, to "f--k" every guy she meets? Why is Royce, smart and charming, being bullied at school? And why haven't Carolyn and David-seemingly intelligent, caring parents- noticed that their kids are troubled? If Royce knows his sister dresses like a slut because she is a slut, why don't her parents know?
Venour finds Carolyn's chic brittleness that, over the course of the play, becomes confusion and anger. Initially I found McIlroy's performance mannered and I had difficulty imagining David and Kane as lovers. But the playwright crafts David so lovingly and McIlroy is so deeply committed to the character that, eventually, I was a believer. David's showdown with Royce is so generous that it made True Love Lies worth investing in.
Studio 58 grads both, Gilchrist and Lipovetsky's performances are honest and real; Gilchrist really nails down her character's youthful confidence and flippancy. But the dearest character Fraser gives us is Royce. Lipovetsky is so sweet, funny, fragile and vulnerable, you're happy for him when he finds the girl of his outside-the-envelope dreams.