Play takes up the timely issue of change

September 18, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

An article in Wednesday's Today section incorrectly identified an actor in AXIS Theatre's production of "Poor Super Man." His name is Damion Clark, and he is playing the role of Shannon Dockery.

The Sun regrets the errors.

What can we say and how can we say it?

Let's start by saying that, since its inception five seasons ago, AXIS Theatre has staged a number of plays no other theater in town would go near. And, even though Brad Fraser's "Poor Super Man" is a co-production with Towson State University's graduate program in theater, this sexually explicit drama is definitely one of those plays.

Yet despite its nudity, profanity and simulated sex, "Poor Super Man" is a play that does what all effective drama must do -- it finds the universal in the specific. The universal theme it finds is that of change.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

One of the play's five characters, a married man who has an affair with a homosexual artist, is changing despite himself. The artist, meanwhile, would like to -- but can't bring himself to -- hTC change his pattern of dating married men. And, the artist's roommate, a man who wants to change into a woman, is thwarted by doctors who refuse to perform his final sex-change operation because he has AIDS.

Fraser, a controversial, award-winning Canadian playwright, has said he is more interested in action and narrative than character, metaphor and debate. But under Gabriel Shanks' direction, most of the characters in "Poor Super Man" are three-dimensional and involving -- even if the plot frequently descends into melodrama.

Jason Tinney's portrayal of the artist, David -- wealthy and famous, but stymied by painter's block -- is especially commendable. Though I suspect Tinney and Justin Skinner, who plays David's young married lover, Matt, are actually close in age, Tinney's character not only seems more jaded and worldly than naive Matt, but convincingly older. Also, neither actor displays the self-consciousness that can be associated with nudity on stage -- but more on that subject later.

An equally assured performance is given by Shannon Dockery, who brings so much dignity and empathy to the drag role of the transsexual that his is the only consistently likable character on stage.

The two women's roles -- Matt's wife, who is even more naive than he is, and David's best friend, a snide newspaper columnist -- are less well written, and Robin Garvick and Donna M. Fox, respectively, have some difficulty making them appear more than just frustrated and surly.

Besides the risky subject matter, Fraser tries something else unconventional in "Poor Super Man." As the title suggests, there is a comic-book element to the play. This takes two forms. First, the characters often refer to DC Comics' Superman, who, together with his alter ego Clark Kent, is an icon of the theme of change.

Second, Fraser uses projected titles, not unlike the thought balloons in the comics. The effect is like a cross between comic books and Brecht. Besides setting the scene, many of the titles provide shorthand character development, humorously revealing what a character is thinking when he says the exact opposite. Other titles, however, are heavy-handed, merely reinforcing ideas the actors at AXIS are quite capable of conveying on their own.

Speaking of heavy-handedness, a word on the simulated sex scenes and nudity. Director Shanks has toned down the suggestions in Fraser's stage directions, but he could have lessened the explicitness even more. The playwright is dealing with valid issues and themes here, and these deserve to reach a wider audience than is apt to attend a play whose trappings many will find off-putting.

How important and timely are the issues raised in "Poor Super Man"? Well, you have only to consider last week's Senate rejection of same-sex marriages to find a prime example of fear of change and individual differences.

'Poor Super Man'

Where: AXIS Theatre, 3600 Clipper Mill Road

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, matinee at 2 p.m. Oct. 6; through Oct. 6

Tickets: $12 and $14

Call: (410) 243-5237

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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