The nuclear family is heterosexist ideology’s raison d’être and its highest achievement, and the family dinner its most entrenched and sacred ritual. In Jordan Tannahill’s play Late Company, two families devastated by the suicide of a bullied, gay teen attempt to reorder their lives through the civilized structure of a dinner party. Debora and Michael Shaun-Hastings serve as the dinner’s hosts, setting a place at the table for their dead son, Joel. Tamara and Bill Dermot arrive with their bullying son in search of forgiveness, but an alternate agenda of blame begins to surface, revealing the heteronormative beliefs that have informed the actions of all. Bill strikes his son in an effort to police his masculinity, and Debora and Michael express regret at having “put all [their] eggs in one basket” (their only son having turned out to be gay). Eating is predicated on sacrifice (something living must die that others may eat), and the form of consumption signifies parallel cultural sacrifice. In this case, the othering of alternative sexual expression allows conservative family values to dominate culturally. Shrimp and scallops are on the menu in spite of the bully’s seafood allergy— a premeditated, vengeful faux-pas. The shrimp stand in for a far more grievous offence— Joel’s perceived lack of masculinity, without which he could not but fail to take his place at the nuclear family’s table. As the families keep company with the memory of the late teen, the dinner descends into disorder: food is smeared on the wall, accusations are launched, and a performance of Joel’s horrific sacrifice replaces post-dinner entertainment. As the edifice of etiquette gradually crumbles, Canadian society’s foundation of normalized brutality is exposed.
Tannahill, Jordan. Late Company. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2015. Print.
Written by: Emily Perkins
Emily Perkins is a student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She
has a B.A. in Psychology and Women’s Studies from the University of
British Columbia. She plans to pursue a Bachelor of Education degree
followed by an M.A. in English for Teachers.