THEATRE / Painter's block: Richard Loup-Nolan reviews Brad Fraser's Poor Super Man - a Play with Captions

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Where do we find emotional security in a world without the promise of a caped crusader to protect us? The characters in the Canadian writer Brad Fraser's latest play, Poor Super Man - a Play with Captions at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, are all thirtysomething victims of this fin-de-siecle urban angst.

The city in question is Calgary, where David (Ian Gelder), a successful painter, seeks to unblock his brushes by taking a job as a waiter, while his transsexual flatmate Shannon (Jude Akuwudike) nervously awaits permission for his final piece of cosmetic surgery. David's old friend Kryla (Elaine Collins), a sharp-tongued newspaper columnist, flits in and out, sharing with David her frustration with the opposite sex.

David's excursion into the 'straight' world releases him creatively and personally, as he falls in love with the hunky Matt (Christopher Simon), who runs the restaurant with his wife Violet (Kathryn Howden) - with ensuing complications. The waxing of David's star, however, is matched by the waning of Shannon's: he is dying from Aids.

Fraser dresses his modern morality tale with running references to Superman (both David and Matt are comic fans) and back-projected captions that comment on the action. The director Ian Brown and the designer Tim Hatley are more than alive to the filmic / comic-book style of Fraser's narrative, but the captions (which are almost too small to read) do little more than crudely contradict what is being said.

It is disappointing, too, that for all the cinematic veneer - opening titles, even - Poor Super Man feels much more televisual than filmic. Lines ('Shannon, we're all involved with this even if we're not infected') are irredeemably soapy. Brown and his cast drive the story forward as fast as they can, but while the production is eminently watchable, the play feels too long.

Acting, though, is well up to the Traverse's high standard. Ian Gelder's David seduces both Matt and the audience by slowly unfurling his complex, vulnerable charisma. Jude Akuwudike imbues the declining Shannon with great dignity and charm, and Kathryn Howden gives a sterling performance as the crate-humping, politically incorrect Violet.

'Super Man' is at the Traverse from 16 Aug (Booking: 031-228 1404)