BWW Review: LATE COMPANY is a gripping drama dealing with bullying and suicide at New Conservatory Theatre Center
The catastrophic after-effects of teen suicide after anti-gay bullying is the subject of Late Company by Jordan Tannahill, a drama that explores questions of parenthood, the grieving process, tolerance, and forgiveness. The taut, conflict-filled script does not provide easy answers to those queries for 74 of its 75-minute running time but settles on a neatly sentimental wrap-up as its resolution.
Upscale couple Debora (Desiree Rogers) and Michael Shaun-Hastings (Lawrence Radecker) are preparing for a dinner party with the Dermots, Bill (Kenneth Heaton), his wife Tamara (Cheryl Smith), and their son Curtis (Baela Tinsley). They're both tentative about the purpose of the meeting, a chance to constructively discuss the suicide of their only son, Joel, with one of the responsible bullies. After you swallow the premise, the awkwardness of the introductions begins.
Debora and Tamara both read the self-help book "Attracting Positivity," but a kind, contemplative new-age solution is not in the cards. The two couples differ on most issues. It's clear Debora needs closure, but Bill doesn't believe it possible. Everything is uneasy and tension-filled, right down the dinner menu. (Debora serves shrimp and scallops, to which Curtis is highly allergic.)
Increasingly, both couples disagree amongst themselves and it's apparent that huge chasms divide them. There's an emotional presentation of awards and accolades that Michael is proud to display and an equally heart-rendering reading of a letter Debora has written to Curtis. But when Curtis reads his letter, Debora goes on the offense, attacking him for his lack of sincerity.
The anger escalates into full-fledged rage. The Shaun-Hastings it turns out, did not really know their son's need for attention, his postings of controversial YouTube videos, and his flamboyant affectations. You hope that in highlighting this Tannahill is illustrating both sides of a delicate picture, the bullies and their victims, rather than attempting to blame the victim.
The cast is up to the challenge of the highly charged dialogue. Smith and Rogers are heartbreaking as the two mothers caught in the crossfire of guilt, remorse, and shame. As the two fathers, Heaton and Radecker couldn't be more different in their approaches to child-rearing. Tinsley's Curtis is sullen and, through the confrontations with his father, perhaps a victim of his uber-macho environment.
NCTC should be congratulated for presenting this piece, another feather in the cap of their foundational anti-bullying works through their YouthAware program, as well as for partnering with No Bully, Queer Life Space, and San Francisco Suicide Prevention. Late Company exposes dark issues that need to see the light of day. I just wish the grieving parents were a touch more sympathetic.
Late Compnay runs through February 24, 2019
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco
Tickets: nctcsf.org or 415.861.8972
Photos: Lois Tema