Canadian playwright Brad Fraser has never been one to shy away from graphic portrayals of addictions, sex, and violence.
In 1980 at the age of 17, Walterdale Theatre mounted his first big play. Mutants was a production filled with explosive anger and frank depictions. Fraser had endured an abusive childhood and through Mutants, he explored the life of teenagers living on the margins. He did not hold back and it shocked Edmonton’s staid theatre audiences.
Once again, the Toronto-based playwright’s work returns to Walterdale in 5 @ 50. The Edmonton premiere examines the lives of five long-time female friends in their 50s who gather to celebrate Olivia’s birthday. As the play progresses, one sees how alcohol, drugs, bad sex, infidelity, and abusive marriages are destroying their lives.
“Brad has written such layered characters. We’re all good and bad, funny and dark. We’re like real people. This is definitely realistic drama. You see things or people you may know or not want to see. This play will definitely lead to some interesting conversations,” said actor Anne Marie Szucs.
The St. Albert actor nabbed the role of Tricia, a journalist who is tough, uncompromising, and passionate about her work.
“She’s a lot like Brad. She’s unfiltered. She’s a truth teller — her truth. She also tries to fix problems that are unsolvable,” Szucs said.
Olivia (Nicole Lemay), the birthday girl, is the life of a party. She’s vivacious and charming, but also narcissistic and self-destructive.
Norma (Cinnamon Stacey), Olivia’s life partner, is a nurturing, loving individual whose needs often take second place.
Fern (Ursula Pattloch) is a wife, mother, and yoga bunny. On the surface she leads the perfect suburban life. In reality, Fern hides a dirty secret.
Lorene (Elizabeth Marsh) is a woman who seeks love, companionship, and is the heart of the group. During the play she is unattached and is estranged from her two children.
The opening scene is Olivia’s 50th birthday. Olivia arrives at the party late. Her work friends invited her out for a few drinks, and she arrives home inebriated.
“She continues to drink and by the end of the party she throws up on me,” said Szucs. “Later it’s Norma’s birthday and Olivia puts it on. She gets incredibly drunk and there’s a moment she goes out of control and slaps me. You can’t go back from that. She needs help and we stage an intervention.”
Although the intervention is well-intentioned, their lives take an unexpected twist and events spiral out of control.
“I feel it’s a recognizable world. Brad allows us to engage on a level of truth. It’s very uncompromising. When you peel back the pretend elements of friendship, you feel you are on a train moving on the tracks and every moment he pulls you to the next moment. You know too much about these women, but it is a recognition of their world.”
Although the five friends lob F-bombs at each other with genuine hostility, Szucs believes their relationship goes much deeper.
“The characters Brad created are friends, but they are also family for each other. He’s created five women whose family is blurry or absent. This group is our core and it’s so important to hold onto that entity.”
5 @ 50 runs at Walterdale Theatre from Dec. 8 to 18. Tickets $26.50 and are available at www.tixonthesquare.ca or at 780-420-1757.