Xuan Fraser plays a conflicted prosecutor of a black youth in Toronto The Good.
TORONTO THE GOOD by Andrew Moodie, directed by Philip Akin, with Stéphanie Broschart, Miranda Edwards, Sandra Forsell, Xuan Fraser, Brian Marler and Marcel Stewart (Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst). Opens tonight (Thursday, February 5) and runs to March 1, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $20-$37. 416-504-9971.
Actor Xuan Fraser's been in love with the classics for years, playing such commanding Shakespearean roles as Oberon and Macbeth.
Now he's gearing up for a gritty urban love affair with a different kind of part in Andrew Moodie's Toronto The Good. Fraser plays Thomas Matthews, a black Crown attorney who prosecutes a black youth for gun possession.
The multi-faceted part touches him in a different way than the Bard's poetic characters.
"When you're working on a classical piece, you research and adopt ideas you understand on an intellectual level," says the actor. "But this play is topical and visceral. It resonates emotionally with me. At the end of a performance, I'm shaking and feel like I've bled some of my own blood."
Moodie's script, which on one level deals with racial profiling by the police, offers a number of unexpected viewpoints. While the officer who found the gun and laid the charge is white, so is defence lawyer Simon Phillip, who's passionate about the violation of his client's civil liberties.
"This piece has so many different levels," adds Fraser, "but at its core I think it's about failed social programs, failures that hit everyone, not just those in the 'hood. Cutbacks in schools, welfare and other services just up the pressure for everyone.
"Thomas lives in a pressure cooker but isn't aware of it until the stress become too much and he explodes."
It's Simon who points out the insidious effect of slashed social programs. The two lawyers, both idealistic family men, have a lot in common, but each is caught up in his own agenda.
Fraser points out that Thomas is a high-profile Crown attorney busting his ass to be the best.
"He's a black man in a largely white world. If he's worked twice as hard to get to where he is - and he has - Thomas doesn't want to be the equal of others; he wants to be superior."
The trouble is that Thomas can't see anyone else's viewpoint.
"He comes from a background where his parents worked hard and opened doors for him. He doesn't understand Solomon, the teen he's prosecuting - he has no sense of a world in which someone would pick up a gun and use it to get what he doesn't have. That's Thomas's Achilles heel."
The play includes a chorus who not only offer various takes on Toronto's social ills but also present a litany of actual murdered black youths.
"We didn't know them all," offers Fraser, "but researching with director Philip Akin gave us faces for each name. Now we all feel a vibration when we recite them.
"These names are also incantations, spells for viewers for whom the list hits home. They're not just an anonymous shout-out but people you'd meet in the community, your neighbours and friends."
Fraser's serious tone lifts when he recalls a company member's suggestion that Moodie might someday go into politics.
"Andrew denied he'd ever do it," laughs Fraser, "but we'll watch and see. How can you not become a politician when you write a play like this?"