Monday, 1 May 2017

Review Late Company

Late Company
by Jordan Tannahill

Prodigal Sons

Michael (Todd Boyce) is a laid-back Canadian Tory politician, bustling, blonde Debora (Lucy Robinson) is an artist and the Shaun-Hastings' couple live in an isolated spot in suburban Toronto. Bill (Alex Lowe) and Tamara (Lisa Stevenson), the Dermots, are near-ish neighbours.

An event over which, it seems, they all have no control has drawn them together and it's now the first anniversary in the depths of winter.

Debora and Tamara have arranged for the two couples to meet over dinner, following the guidelines in a bestselling book by a self-help guru to "attract positivity".

Included in the party is Bill and Tamara's teenage schoolboy son, monosyllabic, hockey jock Curtis Dermot (David Leopold) who was a classmate of Debora and Michael's son, Joel Shaun-Hastings.

Tensions and irreconcileable differences rise to the surface in a slick production directed by Michael Yale with a polished, dark wood dining room set designed by Zahra Mansouri.

Ostensibly a play about the impact across the generations of school bullying and a child dealing with his sexuality, there are still hints of another story - a financial and political one - which also has reverberations on  the lives of the two boys and their parents.

The first clue, like Canada itself, has a Brit connection. It  is the steel, modernist artwork called "Thatcher" on the wall created by Debora which belies her conservatism in dress, apparent attitudes and striving to be civilised in a difficult situation.

As the play and evening progresses, the Thatchernomics' dictum, "... there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families ..." came to mind.

Whatever the loaned resources, including the media and the support of his political colleagues, at the disposal of politician Michael and artist Debora, these are two families who have been thrown back on themselves.  The school principal, it turns out, knew of a situation before events turned tragic, but had done nothing.

It's a play with a more than promising beginning, hooking the audience in from the start with strong performances from the whole cast and the build up to the main meat of the situation raises expectations.

Yet once the subject turns to the nitty gritty, a rather schematic feel comes in. As if the planned politeness and the keeping of boundaries has invaded the script of the play.

In spite of an ambiguity surrounding the boy who is classed as the victim, the attacks and defences in the cold war between the families, the separate stories and their merging have a mechanical rather than an organic feel.

The play then goes from plot point to plot point. It simply does not feel as if there is a rich enough texture for stage and the ending is anti-climactic.

Still, the characters remain well-defined and the performances carry the drama. Boyce's Michael and Robinson's Lucy, the older couple convey the pent up emotions of a calculating couple who bear the scars beneath their cool exterior.

Despite the political couple's tendency to view the Dermots as hicks, Lowe's pained and morose Bill, led into the meeting by his wife, turns out to be as equally academically qualified as Michael and Stevenson's Tamara has her own core of steely determination beneath a sunny, if strained, exterior.

At the centre, although less verbose, Leopold is totally convincing as the teenager who can only live for the present within the ring of families and school incidents in which he may, or may not, have played a leading role.    

We came away with the overwhelming impression of a worthwhile piece about university-educated baby boomers and their dislocated children where the definition of a "village" no longer means a homely community but the survival of the fittest. But it would be better served as a TV piece or movie.

The natural landscapes of Ontario, the dislocation of new technology, adult political and financial concerns and the invasion of media attention on the barely-formed personalities of teenagers who have been convicted of no crime - these would all be far better juxtaposed jostling on screen than an over-compartmentalized stage play .

Nevertheless, Yale's production, we think, is as good a stage production as it could possibly get for a gritty but unfocussed play and we give it an amber/green light.

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