If you were young and gay in late 1980s Alberta, it seemed you were always waiting. You were waiting for news from the big world in Vancouver, and Toronto, and New York—from friends, from tricks, from books, from plays, from movies. You were waiting for love. You were waiting to get sick. Unless you were Brad Fraser. Brad Fraser wasn’t waiting for anything.
Two years before Angels in America, Fraser, straight outta Beverly (Beverly!), stunned Calgary audiences with Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. I was 22 that January of 1989 and I had never seen anything like it. Fraser made overheated, risky art out of the lives of ordinary people—gay, straight and in-between—in Alberta, of all places.
There was nudity and sex. There was danger and death. And there was Fraser—a ready-made icon with his moustache and his trademark leather jacket—giving the finger on what felt like my behalf to the middle-aged straights who liked their Alberta a little more Jack Peachy. I can’t have been the only one who developed a lasting crush.
Now in Toronto, Fraser has taken time out from his theatre and screenwriting career to write a memoir. All the Rage tells the story of his life from his Alberta childhood to the end of the last millennium. What a story it is. What looked in 1989 like overnight success came out of years of devotion to craft while struggling to make ends meet. This is no sob story, though. Fraser has a gift for telling the truth—including, in his case, a childhood marked by neglect and abuse—without so much as brushing up against self-pity. He’s more than aware that his life, in a lot of ways, has been marked by good luck as much as bad. As I read the early parts of the book, I found myself wondering if a young person in the 2020s could be a celebrity playwright by 30 without a university degree or any significant outside support. I suspect the answer is no.
Being immune to self-pity doesn’t, happily, make Fraser immune to anger. All the Rage is full of artful skewerings of obtuse theatre administrators, know-it-all critics (glances around nervously) and hateful homophobes of all kinds. It’s a pleasure to see how little time has mellowed Fraser. His memoir is a hymn of support for fearless, risky Canadian theatre, for the queer community and for all marginalized people.
Maybe that sounds not too… entertaining. But we’re talking about Brad Fraser here. If there’s one thing he can do, it’s tell a story. Whether he’s working his way up at the Walterdale Theatre or living la vie décadente in New York, Fraser gives us the telling detail, the perfect phrase and the sound of his own beating, angry, compassionate heart.
—Alex Rettie is a long-time reviewer for Alberta Views.