By Jordan Tannahill. Directed by Katrina Dunn. A Touchstone Theatre Company production. At the Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab on Friday, November 21. Continues until November 30
Late Company is a complicated combination of successes and misfires that left me sobbing at times and alienated at others.
The basic dramatic premise feels flawed. After being bullied at school and online by a bunch of kids including a boy named Curtis, Joel, a gay teenager, has committed suicide. Joel’s mom, Debora, and Curtis’s mother, Tamara, decide that it would be a great idea for the two families to have dinner together and work things through. They rope Curtis, as well as their respective husbands, Mike and Bill, into the plan.
But their plan is insane. To an extent, playwright Jordan Tannahill acknowledges this: Debora and Tamara are both reading a self-help book written by somebody called Raj Gupta, and Tannahill is clearly criticizing our culture of quick fixes and borrowed wisdom. Late Company is also attempting to be naturalistic, however, and the level of naiveté required to engage in this kind of truth-and-reconciliation dinner in real life would be off the charts. Beyond that, to stick around with your kid—as Bill and Tamara do with Curtis—when Debora starts screaming accusations at him and smearing guacamole on the wall, you’d have to be a very bad parent. In their speech, these characters are articulate, educated, and, in their own ways, caring. They are also complicated. But the idea that brings them together and keeps them together feels phony.
Debora, who is arguably the centre of the play, is a bag from the get-go. She blocks virtually every friendly offer that Tamara makes. And, in cruel ways, she repeatedly attacks Curtis. Although credibly fuelled by grief, her relentlessness gets boring.
Still, a lot of this show works. At one point, Mike and Debora share their memories of Joel by showing mementos and photos to the others. It’s a simple—you might even say manipulative—device, but it’s a killer. On opening might, when Mike, who’s being played by Michael Kopsa, had to stop talking and sit apart from the others because the character was overcome with emotion, I couldn’t look at him; I knew that if I did, I would burst into loud crying. That’s a testament to both the deep integrity of Kopsa’s portrait and to the large-heartedness of the writing. In the same passage, Kerry Sandomirsky’s performance of Debora’s sorrow had a similar effect on me.
Everyone in the five-person cast is excellent. Gerry Mackay’s Bill is just the right combination of decency and belligerence. Katharine Venour’s Tamara broke my heart in her attentiveness to Curtis. And Daniel Doheny is spot-on as the boy: an adolescent jumble of awkwardness, intelligence, and regret.
The greatest strength of the writing is its thematic complexity. It’s easy to want to dismiss the socially conservative Bill, for instance, but a lot of what he says—about the advisability of grieving privately, for example—makes sense. And for all of Debora and Mike’s supposed sophistication, their son never felt comfortable coming out to them.
The Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab has never looked nearly as good as it does here, thanks to Pam Johnson’s stylish suburban set. And there’s no denying that Late Company gives you lots to think about.