Jordan Tannahill’s play is certain to bring some new perspectives to the notion of cruelty. Late Company is an emotionally riveting drama being held at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Center for a series of shows that continue until March 21.
At 26, Tannahill already has an expansive body of work and many awards to his name, such as the 2014 Governor General’s award for Drama.
Winnipeg’s production of Late Company will be the production’s third showing after having been hosted previously in Toronto and Vancouver.
Based loosely on the suicide of Jamie Hubley, Late Company depicts the scenario of the parents of a deceased gay teen (Joel). The parents invite their son’s tormentor and his parents over for dinner in an attempt to find a bit of closure and to hopefully take some weight off their shoulders. They soon find, as you might imagine, that this is much easier said than done.
Subtle questions arise throughout the play. Blame gets placed then rearranged then passed around again, and as the tormentors father brings forth the cliché statement of “it takes a village” in attempting to alleviate some of his guilt, it becomes easy to see that Tannahill’s notion of otherness is a tangible truth that often goes unacknowledged.
“I was inspired by what I believe is a society that is very tolerant towards otherness, be it racial, sexual, political, or gender-based,” Tannahill says. “Expressions of otherness that don’t conform to the normative vision of what is acceptable, is still in our society deemed outrageous or inappropriate. There’s a very narrow window into which anyone who might be of a minority or of some marginal identity is accepted within.”
In the play, Joel is described as having been openly gay in school, and overly flamboyant about it. Tannahill exposes the idea that despite society’s acceptance of homosexuality, those personalities that lie outside of the norm are still subject to ridicule and torment.
“A young boy who is extremely flamboyant, or defiant of gender norms, someone who does not adhere to these kinds of things is still actually a huge target,” explains the playwright. “There’s a limit within which this kind of behavior is accepted.”
Tannahill evokes the notion of cruelty in place of bullying. “I think we torment people in any age or climate. People can be tormented in a workplace, around a dinner table, or in cyber space. To ‘bully’ the term feels like an after-school special to me. So it isn’t so much about that as it is so much about our human capacity for cruelty,” Tannahill says.
“I’m more interested in the ways in which questions around individual responsibility, parental responsibility or collective responsibility are interceded with.”
Late Company also tackles what Tannahill considers to be the expedition of grief in Western society. “(The play) looks at the notion of grief and how we live in a culture that really attempts to seek closure when maybe closure is not yet possible or may never be possible. …I feel like grief is messy, complicated, individual, ugly, and it’s important for us to sort of sit within this place without resolution,” Tannahill says.
The play addresses what Tannahill calls “the fallacy of closure”. And his point stands strong as does the many others he makes, but it asks more questions than it gives answers - which is truly what a play like this should do.
“It’s an offering to an audience that they can choose to take away and collaborate on and make decisions about themselves,” Tannahill says.
Late Company has a knack for shaking sensibilities with a searing poignancy of meaning and purpose. You’ll be asking questions long after leaving through the theatre doors.