GUESS WHO’S NOT COMING TO DINNER?
At first, we have no idea why a well-to-do couple has invited another couple and their son over for dinner. The hostess Debora (Ann Hearn) is on edge from the start, but her politician husband Michael (Grinnell Morris) appears somewhat laid back. A forced amicability arrives with the guests, Tam (Jennifer Lyn Davis) and Bill (Todd Johnson), who have with them their fish-out-of-water teenage son Curtis (Baker Chase Powell).
There is a sixth character who we shall never meet, but whose presence is keenly felt throughout Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill’s 2013 one-act: Gay adolescent Joel, who committed suicide one year ago after being bullied by Curtis and some other peers. The two moms thought it a good idea to have dinner, no doubt to create closure of some kind. To make things easier, it was previously agreed that Joel’s mom, Debora, would read a letter and that Curtis would offer the same.
Watching the characters dance around each other, and all the surprises and shocks that entails, is the best part of this American premiere of Late Company at Theatre 40. (It’s also a brave choice for a subscription-based company that normally offers their elder patrons light murder/mystery-type fare.) Tannahill shows great promise here, evident at the start when Debora and Michael disagree about the setting: As New Age music plays, Debora picks up the napkins with,”These rings are too formal.” Michael responds with, “Formal’s good. It’s the music.” Debora: “The music is appropriate.” Michael: “For a Mayan sacrifice.” Debora: “It’s contemplative.” Michael: “Welcome to our house. Now lie down on this plinth while we cut out your heart.”
It’s an Albee-esque set-up for a play that ultimately is in desperate need of Edward Albee. No doubt Tannenhill offers some impactful emotional revelations, and he gives us plenty to chew on (bullying, parenting skills, coming out, grief, blame), but the dinner set-up becomes less and less believable as tempers flare. In addition, Debora’s rage becomes the central focus, and her relentless heavy-handedness makes the play drag in the middle. The actors are impeccably well-cast with Hearn really giving it her all as Debora, but Bruce Gray’s direction is ultimately too static to make the evening thrilling.
photos by Ed Krieger
241 S. Moreno Dr. in Beverly Hills
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends February 19, 2017
for tickets, call 310.364.0535 or visit Theatre 40