The Edinburgh Festival: Fringe: Portrait of the artist with a younger man

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The Independent Culture
THE Traverse Theatre is on to a good thing in Brad Fraser's Poor Superman, a 'play with captions' which spins a deviant sexual variation from the theme of the artist who loses his gift when he moves up in the world.

David, the toast of the Calgary art set, can paint no more. Remembering that he did his best work as a waiter, he signs on at a lowly diner where his inspiration is revived by Matt, his newly-wed young boss, whom he is shortly enjoying in bed. Like Fraser's Unidentified Human Remains, this piece reveals a side of Canada unknown to ice-hockey fans; and, again, presents it as unselfconsciously as though it were a chunk of suburbia. To label David as homosexual or his dying lover Shannon as a transvestite (beautifully played by Ian Gelder and Jude Akuwudike) falsifies two complex and truthfully drawn characters.

At the same time, Fraser's subject is the encounter between two sexual worlds, which is where the title comes in. Like Superman, David lives a double life, and feels an alien in both. Once he and Matt discover a shared interest in the superhero, the show becomes an animated comic book with thought-bubble captions flashing up on the back wall to variously hilarious and ominous effect. The omens work out all too well in Matt's case. Once tempted out of his innocence, he scurries back to his enraged wife after demanding payment for being painted. 'You don't pay the fruit,' replies David, 'when you paint a still life.' The writing's wit, sensuality, and pain vibrate through Ian Brown's production.

Steffen Silvis likewise aims to uncover a hidden zone of North America in Liberty, Oregon (Foothold Company), which focuses on Midwest strike-breaking in the Depression. Young Nadia (stunningly played by Sarah McVicar) loses her Polish father when he is freighted away into oblivion during a lumber strike. The rest of the piece follows her obsessive search for his grave. En route she is captured by evangelical bigots, cheated out of an inheritance, and pursued by Oregon rednecks. The piece has narrative drive, and much sardonic observation of the Oregon locals, who like nothing better than licking their lips over the latest automobile crashes. But for a piece that sets out to plug a historical gap, its plunge into orphan-child melodrama, complete with ogreish sheriff and golden-hearted brothel owner, is miscalculated.

I learn from the programme to Gerry Mulgrew's Communicado production of The Playboy of the Western World that Synge filched the plot from a Big Lie competition where an ancestor of Mulgrew's carried off first prize by claiming to have slain his father with one blow from a rolled-up copy of the Irish Times, death being caused by blood poisoning from the inferior ink. The show more than lives up to that story. Headed by the silver-tongued Cara Kelly and Mark Aiken, it is an event of huge comic momentum and barbaric energy, and free of honeyed cadences. The women invade the shebeen like a flock of ravenous birds; sometimes the verve of the action overflows into savage dance. And when Pegeen takes Christy on as potboy, she knows she is engaging Superman.

A big hit of last year, Venedikt Yerofeev's Moscow Stations is back at the Traverse, with Tom Courtenay taking another drink-sodden last ride towards the subway's unreachable El Dorado. His performance is ecstatically funny, heart-breaking, and altogether unmissable.

All shows, Traverse: 031-228 1404.

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