Review: Late Company

by Lynn on May 22, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts, Kitchener, Ont. Produced by Green Light Arts. Playing until May 26, 2024.

Written by Jordan Tannahill
Directed by Kwaku Okyere
Set and props by Jung A Im

Costumes by Nicole Del Cul

Lighting by Andrei Mamal
Sound by Janice Jo Lee
Cast: Ryan Hollyman

Dieter Lische-Parkes

Carin Lowerison

Tanisha Taitt

Matt White

A moving play and production about the effects of bullying, being gay,  and the resultant heartache of suicide.

The Story. Michael and Debora Shaun-Hastings and Bill and Tamara Dermot and their son, Curtis, meet over dinner to discuss the suicide of Michael and Debora’s son, Joel. Joel was bullied in high school because he was gay and flamboyant about it, almost seeming to taunt his detractors.  The bullies thought he flaunted it too much. Curtis is believed to be one of the ringleaders. The purpose of the dinner is to try and understand how this could happen, to talk about it and to find closure.  The importance of this dinner-meeting is obvious and Bill, Tamara and Curtis have called to say they will be late, offering that it was complicated finding the house.

The Production. Kwaku Okyere is a fine actor, who is branching into directing. He is directing his first show on his own with Late Company and of course he wants to establish his own concept and interpretation. He has envisioned Deb and Michael’s home as a place of elegance, taste and space.

Designer Jung A Im has created a beautifully appointed, spacious set of Deb (Carin Lowerison) and Michael’s (Ryan Hollyman) living room/dining room. The colour scheme is earth tones, greys and blacks. Some of Deb’s metal sculptures are on the shelves and other knickknacks. Michael is an MP in parliament so the set looks like it was designed by people with money and taste.  

The audience gets a good look at this set as they file into the theatre and settle. Before any character enters there are three screens at the top of the set in which we see a video of a young person—a teen?– wearing a full mesh-head covering, worn when applying make-up. Indeed this person is applying make-up while lip-synching energetically to various women singers about break-ups and being oneself. Lady Gaga sings “Born This Way.” The person seems to be in their room with all sorts of posters of women in flamboyant dress on the wall. We don’t know who the character is or if it’s a man or a woman. As more of the make-up is applied, it looks to be deliberately startling. The videos disappear when the production starts. That person is not one of the cast in Jordan Tannahill’s play, so the mystery continues as to who it is, until deep in the production.

The set table says it all about how important Debora and Michael view this dinner. Debora frets about something as simple as whether or not to put the napkins in napkin rings or on the plates. Most of the time, before the guests arrive, she fluffs and re fluffs the pillows on the couch. Michael tries to calm her fears even though he is also anxious about this meeting.

When Bill (Matt White), Tamara (Tanisha Taitt) and Curtis (Dieter Lische-Parkes) do arrive there is an obvious 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 initially considerate of the other. As Tamara, Tanisha Taitt beings a lovely humanity to the role, trying to be as accommodating as she can in this tricky situation. She is anxious to help Debora in the kitchen.  When Debora has an emotional moment Tamara’s natural instinct is to go and comfort her. As Debora, Carin Lowerison is initially forthcoming about her art, sculpting and emotional upheaval, until she isn’t, at which time she is searing. It’s a short journey to Debora’s pain at the loss of her son and angst at having to go through this. She was closer to Joel than Michael it seems. She knew he was gay even though he never came out to them. Both parents waited for him to make that declaration to come out and he didn’t.

The men are more wary. It’s as if Michael and Bill are challenging the other to get the best advantage and perhaps score points. As Michael, Ryan Hollyman tries to present himself as a father who tried his best. He is watchful of Bill. As Bill, Matt White is a macho man who believes in tough love. He flicks barbs at Michael for being away during the week for parliamentary work and suggests that Michael didn’t know what was going on with Joel.  Curtis, on the other hand is totally uncomfortable. As Curtis, Dieter Lische-Parkes sits at the table, mainly with his head looking down, to avoid stares or be invisible. He frowns and has a pained looked on his face. Naturally he doesn’t want to be there. Curtis knows how tough that school is and knows the students do not accept a person as flamboyant as Joel was, or even gay. Curtis was allegedly the ringleader of the bullies who harassed Joel. Or is it something else?  

There is a moment late in the play when Debora and Michael bring out photos of Joel to show to the others. It’s of Michael and Joel dressed up as George and Sarah Palin for Halloween. Debora asks: “What year was that?” Michael: “I can’t remember.” But Curtis does remember: “Grade nine. I remember the costume. He still had braces then.”

Curtis’ line is a feather of a statement that just floats down, unnoticed, but it speaks volumes. What young teen aged boy remembers the grade, the costume and the fact that his classmate had braces? A kid who is gay and in love with his classmate, and could not ever, ever tell him. Almost every line and action of Bill proves that Curtis could not come out to his father for any reason. So to hide his sexuality, Curtis becomes the leader of the bullies that tormented Joel.  

Dieter Lische-Parkes is a young theatre school graduate and is one to watch. He is sensitive, confident but so able to show Curtis’ distress and discomfort.

When the evening ends badly and Michael tells his guests to leave, he and Debora look at a video on YouTube of Joel in make-up dressed in drag singing Rihanna’s “Stay” and we realize the person at the beginning of the production putting on the make-up is Joel.


Jordan Tannahill’s play ends with an emotional punch, but director Kwaku Okyere upstages that scene and dilutes its power by showing Joel in the YouTube video on screens and in person (above the stage) in full make-up and drag in a formfitting red, sequined gown, lip-synching to “Stay”. The person then comes down the side stairs of the theatre, to the center of the stage,  microphone in hand, until he ends the song and gestures to the rest of the cast to come on for the bow.  

Director Kwaku Okyere 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. But with the inclusion of Joel at all I think Kwaku Okyere has had a mis-step in his concept. Late Company is not about Joel. It’s about how each character of the play copes with Joel’s absence. I can appreciate that a director wants to put their mark on a production, but in this inclusion Kwaku Okyere has ignored to play for his concept.

Comment. With Late Company Jordan Tannahill has written a play that looks at the various sides of bullying, parenting, responsibility, blame, grief and being true to oneself.  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 and he does it with compassion and understanding.

Greenlight Arts presents:

Plays until May 26, 2024.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

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