Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Late Company by Jordan Tannahill


By Joe Straw

Maybe, I just didn’t catch it. Then again, maybe I did.  - Narrator

“Oh, shit!” - Debora

For lack of a better word. Debora Shaun-Hasting (Ann Hearn) hurries into her dining room and hammers her feelings home.  Her husband, Michael Shaun-Hastings (Grinnell Morris), follows like a wayward dog on an unwarranted mission. Their relationship is just a floating fragment of what it once was - much like the bickering going on between them now, even fighting about the choice of music.

Debora, dressing like a willful child of the sixties, scoops the ice with her fingers and releases the ice into the water glasses, on the nicely made table, slamming them, not gently, into the glass. Probably the most important day in Debora’s life and the company is late. Yes, no, they don’t get the ice tongs, just her unwashed fingers manipulating the ice, and throwing them right into the glass of water, serves them right.

Something is not right, feelings between man and wife, a sadness that tears deep into her soul?  Do you get that?  Debora’s face is weathered, masked by the element of time and tragedy. And Michael wants to put on his protective mask, not to be seen, hiding behind the circumstances of things that were and not yet to be.  

“Is she fat?” – Michael

Michael shouldn’t talk, with his perfect hair, his perfect teeth, down to the perfect way he trims his beard, slacks, shinning shoes, sweater, shirt, belt, can anything be more perfect?  Him with his loose-fitting urbanity, the fake political smile, the power of noblesse oblige of someone who calls the night, just who is he trying to unimpress?

So, it all comes down to this, her physical description, a put down, these are the guests for God’s sake.   There’s only so much one can do, set the table, once, twice, three times, check themselves in the mirror that bears down on them from the wall, complain about the lateness, and suddenly there is a knock at the door.

Is it possible to be over prepared?

And, of course it’s them, forty minutes late.  Doesn’t anyone use GPS these days, Google maps for the love of what is just plain right. 

Immediately having their coats taken, their shoes come right off so now they are in stocking feet.  (I know, that’s what they do in Canada. But, is it right?)

Tamara Dermot (Jennifer Lynn Davis) just makes herself too much at home, says she doesn’t want wine but Debora thinks, in keeping with the occasion, that she should have lots of it.  Tamara demurs once, but not twice, and then her glass is filled. Could this be a sign of an alcoholic?

Bill Dermot (Todd Johnson) wears a nasty looking sweater, something you might bring out from the back of the closet but certainly not appropriate for this night. And, not watching his weight, he’s the first one to go for the hors d’oeuvre.  Wait!!! There’s shrimp in the cocktail dip, one bite and their son, Curtis (Baker Chase Powell) well, one bite, and it’s fatal.

Eyes around the room – one can’t believe that Debora and Michael would deliberately do this? Not even Debora or Michael.  Does anyone check ahead of time? No, it turns out, they had no idea.

As long as Curtis doesn’t eat it, his father Bill is not concerned, not that he was really concerned anyway.   More for him as he drops three or four into his mouth, one hitting the floor.  No worries let someone else clean it up.

And Curtis ignores the food, the home, and the almost near-death experience because he is so inside his phone that he can’t take a moment to figure out the “why” of the why he is there. Not a young man you would suspect as having a ferocious conscience. It seems. Couldn’t he have gotten a decent haircut? They haven’t seen hair this long since the wayward sixties.  Must I repeat myself again that this is an important night.

There’s work to be done tonight, this is what they agreed to, and with all the chitchat not one thing is going to be accomplished, of any significance, not now, and maybe not ever.  But oh, you could cut the silent tension with knife and not make headway.

From the beginning, there are differences. The Shaun-Hastings, well, the last names for one should tell you those two are important enough for one not losing one or the other’s last name.  They are better educated, more accomplished. Michael is a politician (he had to move in order to win the position) and Debora is an artist.  She didn’t “steal” the sculptures sitting on her mantel, she works in steel.

The little things that throw a conversation off – steal versus steel – that makes the moments uncomfortable, as if they don’t have one more obstacle to overcome. They have little in common.  Would they finish the night in a manner befitting grown adults?

Not with Debora setting an extra place for someone who won’t be there. The pain from that action is enough to make to guests run out of the room.

I have to pause.  Bullying, in the written form, can be so tiring.

Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents the American premiere of Late Company by Jordan Tannahill, directed by Bruce Gray through February 19th, 2017, and produced by David Hunt Stafford.  

Late Company by Jordan Tannahill is a wonderful and important play about the subject of bullying, grief and forgiveness.  Its rich dialogue digs deep into the psyche of two families that are deep in turmoil.  They are in an emotional crevasse so profound they cannot see the opening.  So they battle, their warrior like conflict directed between themselves, the offending family, and their own internal struggle.   These two families, so far apart in purpose, agree to this night to find conclusion and to ease their infinite suffering. But their meeting to cure turns into an insalubrious miasma and you sometimes wonder, who exactly is the bully?

Bruce Gray, the director, wastes no time in getting into the meat of the matter.  His direction is exquisitely and brilliantly executed. This is the finest play I’ve seen this year.  Each moment is infinitively enlightening and carefully crafted, bounded together by a meticulous subtext that drives each and every character.  It doesn’t hurt that he has a solid cast of characters that defined the ordinary in extraordinary circumstances.

One thing that I had a thought about was the initial meeting, when the Dermots come through the door.  The entrance calls for a bold clarification that establishes the relationships. The one that truly counts is the relationship between Debora and Curtis.  That meeting must be bold, and it must be one that leaves a lasting impression even after you leave the theatre.

Ann Hearn as Debora Shaun-Hastings is a character that grows during the course of the night. Debora can be a cordial host, but really she is really interested in finding answers where there may be none.  Time will cure her emotional outpouring, but tonight she needs conclusion.  She refuses to use her art as a release for therapy.   Maybe one year is too early to have this confrontation, now she remains mad at everyone, trying desperately to find answers. It is a biting night for Debora in the way the outdoor Canadian weather bites the soul. Hearn is terrific as she fights her way - in the only way she knows how.   

Grinnell Morris is Michael Shaun-Hastings.  He is disappointed about what happened but what’s done is done.  He has misgivings about the unfortunate event but he was busy with his political career to put enough effort in his family life. Something had to give. In hindsight, he is lost, and trying to find his way.  How did he come this far only to be lost in his family life? Morris plays all sides in this character as all politicians might and in the end Michael wins the day. It is a small victory but one that Morris executes with passion.   

Jennifer Lynn Davis gives a wonderful performance as Tamara Dermot.  Tamara, a mother herself, is very sympathetic, but not so much that she would let another woman torment her son.  Through thick or thin, Tamara will live through the unexpectedness of this night, take what is coming, but not have her son dragged through the mud.

Todd Johnson is Bill Dermot, an educated man, but something has gone wrong with his life.  Maybe it’s the little things, the not taking care of the small details. He seconds guesses this whole night.  “Not sure if it will work.”  He does not want to take any of the blame, instead places on the other family. Dermot appears to not learn anything from this confrontation. Dermot is a needle in a sofa cushion causing pain when you least expect it. For Johnson, it is an unsympathetic role, but one that he absolutely nails.

Baker Chase Powell does a lot of remarkable things as Curtis Dermot.  It not easy being the purported heavy on this night, on his phone, melancholy, and waiting for the hammer to drop. He’s written the letter, and in this room full of adults, wondering if it is good enough to win the night and ease the pain.   This is a terrific performance with a terrific ending.

David Hunt Stafford, the producer, manages another triumph at Theatre 40 showcasing theatre in the finest details.

Jeff G. Rack, Set Designer, places the dinning table upstage center right, slightly cold and impersonal, a very uncomfortable space for characters in an uncomfortable situation.  And this allows the actors to work their magic in the space.

Other members of this terrific crew are as follows:

Michéle Young – Costume Designer
Ric Zimmerman – Lighting Designer
Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski – Sound Designer
Amanda Sauter – Stage Manager
Brian Barraza – Assistant Lighting Designer
Michele Bernath – Assistant Director

Run! Run! Run! And take someone you have not completely forgiven.

Reservations:  310-364-0535

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