Warehouse season-ender serves tragic bullying story when two families sit down to eat
Late Company, the season-ending play at the Warehouse, takes as its subject a heartbreaking premise: a gay teen’s suicide due to bullying.
But Toronto-based, Ottawa-born playwright Jordan Tannahill layers political context over personal tragedy in the play’s brisk 75-minute running time, set a year after the event.
The dead boy’s parents, a sculptor and a Tory MP (played, respectively, by Terri Cherniack and Doug McKeag) attempt to come to terms with the tragedy by having dinner with the teen boy found to be the principal instigator (Daniel McIntyre-Ridd) and his parents (Sharon Bajer and Cory Wojcik). The objective is closure. The outcome is something else altogether.
If the play has a real-life inspiration, it would be the 2011 suicide of Jamie Hubley, a 15-year-old Ottawa boy suffering from depression exacerbated by continual bullying at school because of his homosexuality.
But for the 26-year-old playwright-filmmaker-choreographer, the play truly gestated in the responses to the suicide.
“What was arresting to me was, sadly, not the spectre of queer teen suicide itself, which has become so commonplace,” Tannahill says. “That’s not what prompted the writing of the play. It was the political reaction to this that, for me, really got under my skin.”
Tannahill refers specifically to the spectacle of 10 Conservative MPs creating an “It Gets Better” video in response to the tragedy.
It Gets Better, Tannahill explains, is a campaign initiated by sex columnist Dan Savage “in which LGBT adults essentially reassure LGBT youth, who are potentially struggling with identity issues or with bullying, that it gets better, and that they too can have a self-actualized lifestyle or have friends who will love them and family who will love them, and pursue their dreams as LGBT adults.”
The original campaign, Tannahill asserts, was intended as “a conversation between people in the LGBT community.”
“In its essence, the campaign is a very positive force, and for me, the federal Conservatives releasing an It Gets Better video was so tin-eared, it was actually kind of obscene,” he says.
“These were non-gay or not-out MPs, and many of them had actually voted against legislation that would directly improve the lives of queer teens and queer people in Canada,” Tannahill says. (Indeed, one of the participants was former Manitoba MP and public safety minister Vic Toews, a longtime vocal and vociferous Tory warhorse in his stubborn opposition to same-sex marriage through his terms in office.)
“The hypocrisy was so overwhelming,” Tannahill says, adding that he was surprised to find that many friends and acquaintances chose to view the video as a positive sign of progress.
“I had brought this up at a dinner party of some family friends of ours in Ottawa, people of educated middle-class standing within suburban Ottawa, and they could not apprehend the hypocrisy of this. They would say: ‘They’re trying,’ or ‘It’s a gesture.’
“But for me, the idea of ‘it’s a gesture’ is so emblematic of the ways in which so many of us deal with issues of sexual identity and sexual politics,” Tannahill says. “It’s a kind of not-in-my-backyard lip service that’s given to it, and not understanding the ways in which they are directly implicated in perpetuating a society that enacts violence against queer youth all the time.
“It’s not a play about queer teen suicide,” he says. “For me, the play is about larger questions, about collective responsibility about the raising of children in the 21st century. What are our new responsibilities and realities in the 21st century? Who polices the Internet and the cybersphere?”
Tannahill, who recently received the Governor General’s Award for English-language drama, says the attempts to pop the illusory bubble that we live in enlightened times.
“I think we still live in an incredibly conservative, sex-phobic society,” he says. “It ‘tolerates’ other-ness and queer-ness. ‘You have your rights to get married, now please go away and become like us and assimilate.’
“But I think we’re still profoundly troubled and unable to reconcile men who are feminine or flamboyant or a culture that defies that normative vision of what the family is,” he says.
“There’s still a complete lack of awareness about the ways in which people are implicated in the oppression of queer people or people of colour or any of the marginal people of our society.”
The Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2015 By: Randall King (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It Gets Better – In Memory of Jamie Hubley