Grief, blame, and the hypocrisy of the suburbs take center stage in d2 productions’ Late Company. Written by celebrated Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill and directed by Dale Hayes, Late Company focuses in on the Shaun-Hastings – a grief-stricken upper-middle-class couple – as they have dinner with their late son’s former bully, and his parents. Over the course of the evening, the events leading up to this fateful meeting are pieced together: we find out that Joel, the son, committed suicide at least partly as a result of being bullied for his homosexuality. What ensues is a realistic – sometimes-heated, sometimes-repressed – search for closure, an honest attempt at finding common ground, and perhaps a first step towards change and growth for all parties involved.
We witness two diametrically opposed responses to grief from Debra (Helena Levitt) – a sculptor and rather overbearing mother who wears her emotions on her sleeve – and Michael (Sterling Mawhinney) – her Conservative politician husband, more of a quiet awkward-joke type, who refuses to deal with his emotions. In comparison, the second couple seems like a far more compatible pair, but we come to see that no one is quite as well-adjusted as the front they put up. Tamara (Leigh-Ann Taylor) attempts to bond with Debra over their unconditional love for their respective sons; one mother’s grief is the other’s shame. Bill (Nick Walker) tries to relate to Michael over their shared reservations about “putting everything out on the table” like their wives do. Their teenage son Curtis (Anthony Schuller) sits there, seemingly apathetic to it all – until he isn’t.
Tamara exclaims: “Why sweep it under the rug? Why can’t we have an open conversation about it?” And here, they do. Between a heartfelt re-telling of the night of Joel’s suicide and the detailed description of a recurring nightmare, the two families exchange a myriad of insults and disagreements on a wide array of topics. There are the obvious – homosexuality, bullying, suicide – but also countless others: social media, corporal punishment, public image, depression, and more. The serious subject matter is balanced out by tangents about art, hedge-trimming, and knitting phases, as well as the occasional joke and clever quip. Many important questions arise from the passionate dinner-table conversation: How do we go about speaking of those who are no longer around to defend themselves? Does the consequence of an action matter more than the intention behind it? Are the search for forgiveness and the desire for revenge mutually exclusive? How does one forgive themselves if they do not think they are to blame at all?
Artfully designed wine glasses are a notable element of the set: a tasteful and realistic suburban dining room – complete with an overhanging chandelier and real food. All of the actors are well cast in their respective roles. They look like the stock-ish characters they are meant to portray, and deliver even the most stereotypical lines of dialogue in a genuine and believable manner. However, every character has such deeply-rooted internalized homophobia and heavily dated opinions about homosexuality, mental illness and psychiatric treatment, which often becomes highly frustrating and makes it difficult to then empathize with them in their more vulnerable moments.
Though Tannahill’s script deals with important issues and may have been groundbreaking when it was written back in 2010, its relevance in 2017-Montreal is questionable. The increasing acceptance and general conversations around queerness and mental health have moved beyond what the text can offer – although to be fair, the suburbs seem to be permanently stuck in 2010 (if even that), so the conversations depicted in Late Company just might still be an accurate portrayal of the demographic the play represents. Nonetheless, d2’s newly upgraded mandate to exclusively produce Canadian plays – with an emphasis on emerging artists – is a noble one, and we look forward to seeing where this venture takes them next.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Contributor Violette Kay
d2 productions presents Late Company
When: November 8-19, 2017
Where: MainLine Theatre Mini-Main, 3997 Boul. St-Laurent
Duration: 1h15 (no intermission)
Admission: Regular 15$, Senior/Student/QDF 12$