The final play in The Theatre Centre's November Ticket triptych is its most intimate look at grief and loss–and the most optimistic.
In a jam-packed month for Toronto theatre, the Theatre Centre and Why Not Theatre’s November Ticket triptych of Nicolas Billon’s Butcher (now closed), Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present… (also running to November 29), and Jordan Tannahill’s Late Company has been packing their houses. All three plays have been Toronto premieres, though Late Company had previously played the SummerWorks Festival, where we gave the “searing, unforgettable drama” full marks.
Since that festival run, Tannahill (and his Suburban Beast company) has garnered an impressive list of awards and credits, leading in part to his selection on our annual People to Watch feature, a Governor-General’s award for Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays, a Toronto remount and New York debut of his adaptation of Sheila Heti’s All Our Happy Days Are Stupid, and the Toronto Islands site-specific show It Comes In Waves for PANAMANIA.
Debora (Rosemary Dunsmore) and her husband Michael (Richard Greenblatt), a conservative politician, are waiting for their dinner guests anxiously at the opening of the show. They’re about to settle on a “safe word” if things get too tense or volatile when Bill (John Cleland) and Tamara (Fiona Highet) and their son Curtis (Liam Sullivan) arrive with a bottle of wine and apologies for their tardiness. Both families are hoping this dinner may lead to much needed resolution and healing from a tragedy that continues to affect them all: the death of Deborah and Michael’s son (and Curtis’ classmate) Joel. But it’s no spoiler to say that the good intentions of this meeting are soon sent spinning off the rails by accusations and the still too raw emotions of grief and shame at the loss of Joel, whose death became a media flashpoint for queer bullying and suicide.
Many of the creative team from the SummerWorks production is back for this “proper” premiere; director Peter Pasyk, production manager Patrick Lavender, and actors Greenblatt, Highet, and Dunsmore, whose grieving mother is the most committed to this meeting—and the most ferocious when it turns ugly. Most everything we loved about that first staging has been retained, though even two years has meant the ground covered by the play has become more broken and explored, such as with the recent staging of Rob Kempson’s Shannon 10:40 in the final season for Tannahill’s own venue Videofag.
While the three plays in the November all tackle different topics—race relations and genocide in Drury’s play; war and the cyclical nature of revenge in Billon’s—loss and grief are part of the equation in all. (They also have the occasional light moment of comedy before their deep plunges into high drama.) We Are Proud… goes for the head, exposing prejudice and weakness; Butcher went right for the gut, with sharp turns and brutal violence on display. Late Company goes for the heart; there are horrible things said over the disastrous dinner, but they come from a desire for understanding, without quite going to the vengeful desire of inflicting pain, as the gruesome acts of Butcher did. And while all three plays leave deep emotional (if not physical) scars on their characters, and expose troubling flaws, it’s Late Company that holds out the most hope for reconciliation and healing. That note of optimism, from the youngest of the three playwrights featured, is a welcome one, though the emotional rollercoaster of all three of the November Ticket shows have been most worthwhile.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Jordan Tannahill won the Governor General’s Award for The Theatre of the Unimpressed.