by Lynn on November 28, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jordan Tannahill
Directed by Peter Pasyk
Set and lighting by Patrick Lavender
Sound by Andy Trithardt
Cast: John Clelland
Rosemary Dunsmore
Richard Greenblatt
Fiona Highet
Liam Sullivan

A moving play and production about the effects of bullying and the resultant heartache.

The Story. Michael and Debora Shaun-Hastings and Bill and Tamara Dermot meet over dinner to discuss the suicide of Michael and Debora’s son, Joel. Joel was bullied in school because he was gay and the bullies thought he flaunted it too much. Bill and Tamara’s son, Curtis is also at the dinner. He is believed to be one of the ringleaders. The purpose of the dinner is to try and understand how this could happen. The importance of this dinner-meeting is obvious and Bill, Tamara and Curtis have called to say they will be late.

The Production. Designer Patrick Lavender’s beautifully set table says it all about how important Debora and Michael view this dinner. Debora (Rosemary Dunsmore) frets about something as simple as whether or not to put the napkins in their napkin rings in the pasta bowls or beside them. Michael (Richard Greenblatt) tries to calm her fears.

When Bill, Tamara and Liam do arrive there is an obvious, if guarded, effort to make the best of this awkward, emotional situation. There is the appearance that both sides want some kind of understanding of the other. The reality of course is something else.

Both women are considerate of the other. Tamara (Fiona Highet) is anxious to help. When Debora has an emotional moment Tamara’s natural instinct is to go and comfort her. The men are more wary. It’s as if Michael and Bill (John Cleland) are circling each other to get the best advantage, like dogs sniffing, to stake out their territory. Both men flick little barbs, but when they are all together there is the appearance of good behaviour. Curtis (Liam Sullivan) on the other hand is totally uncomfortable. He slumps. His head is down as he sits at the table. He doesn’t want to be there, or at least be invisible.

Director Peter Pasyk does a lovely job of delicately establishing the relationships, pacing the discoveries and revelations so that they evolve naturally and not obviously. When the emotion of what happened is illuminated in a torrent it is not a surprise but it is still overwhelming. As Debora, Rosemary Dunsmore is gracious and searing in equal measure. This is a mother in raw emotional agony and Dunsmore never lets you look away. She is accommodating but fearless in not letting the other side get complacent. Richard Greenblatt as Michael is emotionally wounded in his own way. He is calmer but still protective of his son’s memory. He often reacts in silence to a comment from the other side, but still quietly makes his own points. As Tamara, Fiona Highet is an understanding mother and can appreciate Debora’s pain. Her compassion is genuine but she is also protective of Curtis. John Cleland as Bill is there a bit under duress. He feels that if Joel’s parents were more attentive this might have been prevented. He (Bill) is a good father. He does not give the impression he thinks Michael did a good job. Cleland let’s off barbs that get sharper and sharper. Finally, as Curtis, Liam Sullivan is a mass of conflicted emotions. He doesn’t feel he did anything wrong, but he’s not arrogant about it. He also does accept his implication in what happened.

It’s the beauty of Jordan Tannahill’s writing that there is elegance in the way the story evolves and each character is developed. Everyone of them is trying to come to an understanding of an issue that is incomprehensible and emotionally shattering.

If I do have a quibble it is in the very last scene. I think the lights fade too fast to actually see the true emotion of the character who is the centre of the scene. Other than that, gut-twisting.

Comment. Jordan Tannahill has written a play that looks at the various sides of bullying, parenting, responsibility, blame, grief and being true to oneself. The play and production are never less than compelling. Late Company is also one of the most gut-twisting plays on right now. I am so grateful for Why Not Theatre, the Theatre Centre and the November Ticket for remounting this production (after its initial one for Summerworks last year).

Tannahill is such a graceful writer. He has a deep understanding of this powerful, emotional situation. He has written a play that investigates a troubling problem today. He does it with sensitivity, honesty, truth, and compassion.

Produced by Surface/Underground Productions and presented by Why Not Theatre

Opened: Nov. 18, 2015.
Closes: Nov. 29, 2015.
Cast: 5; 3 men, 2 women.
Running Time: 70 minutes.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.