December, 2014 / Author:

The cast of Late Company. Photo by Bruce Monk. The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s esteemed artistic Director, Steven Schipper, has taken the helm of a contemporary Canadian play with the presentation of Late Company.

At first, it would be easy to think Schipper, took on the project as its director because it needed a veteran to counter balance the very young playwright, Jordan Tannahill. However, one would be mistaken, as Tannahill (26) is already well respected and an award winning playwright.

Late Company stands as proof why he has received so many accolades regardless of his age. The script is challenging; it tackles some difficult, but relevant, issues in a way that is as convincingly concise as it is approached with layers to be discovered by the audience.

What Schipper offers is not counter balance, but confidence, so that the play stands on its own strengths. In fact, it becomes apparent that the director made choices that subtly lift and give the right tone to the scenes and to the powerful moments on stage.

We are meant to hear glasses cling when they are set on the table. It seems natural and awkward when characters speak over each other. We are meant to live the silence with the characters and, as Sharon Bajer, who plays Tamara Dermot, said, “to have the actors and the audience breath together.” All result in a production that is real and raw, because the subject of the play is real and raw.

Late Company has a simple plot: a gay teenager kills himself. Accompanying this are expected elements: father in denial about his sexuality, flamboyant gay teen teased at school, mother doesn’t want to stop grieving. The elements might feel expected, but they are delivered in a way that makes them relatable, if not simply by what we’ve read in the news.

More importantly it allows the characters to not simply exist as the victim, the rightfully accused, or the innocent by-stander. We are all flawed characters in real life. We are all self-centred in some ways. We all think we know what’s best at times; we all think we are doing the right thing. We ignore facts because we can’t change what has happened; it allows us to move forward. Or we ignore facts because we don’t want to move forward.

It is a plot that reveals that in these stories, there are no winners. All leave affected. The tormenter and his parents are invited to supper by the parents of the deceased teen in an exercise of reconciliation, but it becomes apparent that “before forgiveness, there needs to be tears, blood and guts.”

Well, guts get spilled onto the table, but never to a satisfying conclusion. As an audience, you are left to wonder what does matter. As some details get revealed, we must choose if it changes the story and if its changes where to lay blame. As details are revealed, we must choose with whom we sympathize. This will shift throughout the play and that is the raw truth that the play exposes.

Tannahill challenges us, no matter how exposed we are to the subject. Conversations on “how faggy was he” are contextualized in 2015, not 1940. Yet it leads us to nod at the lines, “Would you come out if you were gay in your school,” to the logical answer, “Hell no.”

Maybe this is why most audience members can see only merit to why this play needs to exist. Its not a light-hearted subject. It is thus dependant on a tight script, a director who can make confident choices, and a well experienced and convincing cast.

The cast includes Daniel McIntyre-Ridd, who at 16 delivers a version of a teen that is layered and complex, at times sympathetic, at times disappointingly teen-like (not that the adult characters aren’t equally disappointing at times).

You will need time to digest what is presented to you, but if we do not take time to absorb these issues and challenge ourselves, we cannot expect things to get better. Let art go where we often fear to go.

Late Company runs at the Tom Hendry Warehouse until March 21, 2015.

Eric Plamondon is a Winnipeg based freelance writer.

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