In the sidewalk crush outside the Lower Ossington Theatre on Friday afternoon, audience members coming and going to the SummerWorks box office and two venues, you could tell who had just seen Late Company at a glance: red-rimmed eyes, haunted expression, holding hands. It’s exactly that difficult. It’s even more extraordinary. I am still, hours later, revisiting it and savoring moments of truly transcendent theatre.
The story is loosely based on that of Jamie Hubley, the gay 15-year-old son of a Tory politician who killed himself in Ottawa two years ago after being extensively bullied. Late Company imagines what a restorative justice dinner held a year later might have looked like between the parents of a dead gay son (called Joel in the play), his chief tormentor and that boy’s parents, and the vision is harrowing and brutal and still allows for a few real moments of grace. This is exactly, exactly what fictionalization is for – to tell the truth of a story without having to be faithful to the facts of an instance. Jordan Tannahill‘s volatile and touching script, combined with an incredibly self-assured direction by Peter Pasyk, puts this show in my personal, all-time hall of fame.
The cast is extraordinary, especially the women. They’re everywhere there is to go, emotionally, and for a play based on a suicide that’s a really tall order. As the show opens, just after Debora and Michael (Joel’s parents, played by the most marvelous Rosemary Dunsmore and Richard Greenblatt) finish second-guessing themselves and fussing with the napkins, Tamara and Bill (Fiona Highet and Paul Fauteux) arrive with their angular teenaged son Curtis (Mark Corriea) in tow. No one wants to eat except Bill, no one wants to talk except Deb, Tamara is determined that this dinner will prove she is a good mother and Michael still can’t say any of the things he feels about his son. Curtis, with his back to the audience for the first half of the play, manages more with the set of his head and shoulders than I have seen grown professionals do with their entire faces in nice light, and good on Pasyk for trusting him with it.
Some portions of the first third of the dialogue came a little fast, which may have been a directorial choice about the characters’ nervousness – if so, it’s the only choice in this show I didn’t love – or may have been actual human nerves. I found myself actually murmuring “It’s okay, take your time,” to either the actors or the characters under my breath, though.
There’s so much for the actors to do in this production. Tannahill’s script makes his characters abandon their pretenses, pick them up again, and then set them on fire. The characters behave badly and then own it and then do it again, all the while showing us why they feel pushed and nodding at how they wish they were acting. Dunsmore as Debora is the heart of the play as that unnameable horror, the mother who no longer has any children, and true to the metaphor her beats move the play. It’s an unrestrained, remarkably raw performance.
It’s hard to say enough good things about this production. I can easily imagine Late Company as the Kim’s Convenience of SummerWorks, the show that has everything, that gets remounted again and again because people can’t get enough of it, that sells out over and over again. Get tickets soon. And bring a handkerchief.
- Late Company is playing at the Lower Ossington Theatre (100A Ossington Avenue, Toronto).
- Show times remaining: Tuesday August 13, 5:00 pm, Wednesday August 14, 2:30 pm, Thursday August 15, 10:00 pm, Friday August 16, 2:30 pm, Saturday August 17, 12:00 pm, Sunday August 18, 5:00 pm
- All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth (located at 100A Ossington Avenue, first floor) Aug. 6-18 10AM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
- Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows
Photo by Erin Brubacher