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San Francisco by Richard Connema

New Conservatory Theatre Presents
the West Coast Premier of Martin Yesterday



The New Conservatory Theatre has become San Francisco's prime theater for presenting the best cutting-edge plays dealing with gay life. Brad Fraserís Martin Yesterday is no exception. This drama is very flawed however. The play tries to cover too many things in two hours (with intermission). We are confronted with gay-bashing, homophobia, male prostitution, blackmail, AIDS, Canadian politics, sexually explicit scenes, drug addiction, and rape. We even get a little talk about Quebec trying to separate from the rest of Canada, and Prozacís effect on sexual performance. This is not a happy play; no one is cheerful, everyone has problems and they are not solved at the end either. As the playwright said, "it is a play to make you think." I would like to think about these issues one at a time and not altogether in a short two hours.

Brad Fraser is a well known Canadian playwright who wrote Poor Super Man which received rave reviews in London several years ago. Mr. Fraser also wrote the screenplay to Unidentified Remains, a dark gay movie that made a splash in both Canada and the States in 1994.

Martin Yesterday premiered as a stage play at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto in October, 1997. It was attacked so viciously by the critics that Brad Fraser wrote a message on the back of this program defending his play. He said "The critics hated it. They wanted to pronounce my career over. I wanted to throw out the 'well made' play and it was so misunderstood." However, he said younger people, used to the Internet and multiple screens, got it, while mainstream viewers and critics perversely couldn't or wouldn't. Well as a critic I use the Internet and multiple screens and I did get it. However, I did not want so much of it.

This is a play about five characters involved in sex and politics. A cartoonist named Matt in his early 30s is taking off for the big time. He and his straight female partner draw a highly successful cult comic book called "Spamboy and Fridge Magnet Girl." However, Matt is restless. He is tired of short lived relationships and reckless flings with younger partners. He wants someone more mature. He tells his partner, "I want to spend time with someone who gets my jokes and doesnít understand the metric system". This probably goes over more in Canada then here since no one knows the metric system here.

One night at a club, he meets Martin Yesterday, a charming politician in his late 40s. Mr. Yesterday is a city official in Toronto and it looks as if Mattís search is finally going to end. However, Martin is a mystery. He isn't forthcoming about his private affairs and he has some very dark and destructive secrets. Martin has a strange relationship with Rex, a 23 year-old into drugs and bisexuality. Martin also supports Yves, a former lover, who is now a delivery boy of drugs on the street. Oh, did I say that Martin was HIV positive and not above spreading it to his unprotected partners? I told you itís not a happy play.

The play has glib, quirky and crisp dialogue but it never gets beneath the surface of these characters. They are more figures than human. I couldn't care less what happens to any of these people. Some of the dialogue reminded me of a Mamet play with fast intercutting of talk between the actors. The scenes whiz by so fast, with actors coming in stage right, stage left and leaving rapidly, that the play's serious flaws are soon apparent.

There are great and very bad scenes. One excellent scene is a roller coaster ride, a dramaturgical tour de force. Matt, who does not like roller coasters, is talked into going on one by Martin. Both sit on the front of the stage and blinking lights from the back simulate the movement of the cars. As they ascent the first high raise and are about to descend downwards Martin, who his holding Matt's hand, says he is HIV positive. Both scream as the car descends at a maddening speed. The playwright uses this scene as a metaphor for the violent events to come.

The acting is uneven in this production. Matt, played by Scott Cox is the most natural. He is witty and capricious and he has the best lines. His is the best written role and he is very sympathetic as the self-sufficient and self-directed cartoonist.

Martin is played by Lee Corbett who has appeared off-Broadway, and played a key role in Dracula at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York. He studied with the Prime Theater Group in Poland. However, he was miscast in this play. Mr. Corbett is an actor for larger stage presentations or at least larger houses. In this small 99 seat theater he is just bigger than life.

Jennifer Reynolds is excellent as the straight female cartoonist partner. Jeffrey White as Yves, and Derek Cowan as Rex, need more experience. Jeffrey White has a fair Quebec French accent and does stay in character. He also acts as if he's in a daze throughout the whole production and shows no emotion whatsoever. Derek Cowan looks like a young hustler and he does a creditable take on the character.

Christopher Jenkins used only the simplest set consisting of a bed, table and drawing table on a very small stage. All of the action is in your face.

The drama is at the New Conservatory Theatre, 25 Van Ness Ave. It runs through April 7. Tickets are $15.00 to $25.00. Call (415)861-8972 for tickets, or visit www.nctcsf.org.

Coming up at the theater is the concert version of the musical Chess, from April 4 to April 29. Cloud 9 and Most Fabulous Story Ever Told will be the final two offerings of the current season.



Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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