Two families grit their teeth through a tense dinner party a year after one of them lost a teenage son to suicide.
It’s quite the contrived situation, to be certain: A year after their teenage son committed suicide, possibly attributable to being the target of anti-gay bullying at school, Debora (Tosha Fowler) and Michael (Paul Fagen) have invited one of the chief bullies, Curtis (Matthew Elam), and his parents Bill (Tony Buzzuto) and Tamara (Asia Jackson) over for dinner and closure. It’s hard to imagine five humans in such a situation actually agreeing to such a setup, but it does make for charged drama in Jordan Tannahill’s taut, real-time one-act.
Tannahill makes some provocative points about the ambiguity of outness and the varied ways one can choose to present identity in the modern age, such that even two parents can have differing ideas about who their son really was. The playwright has allowed Cor Theatre to transfer the setting from his native Canada to the suburbs of Chicago, which makes some of the political references feel off; Michael’s position as a conservative legislator plays a not insignificant part in the plot, but Canadian conservative and liberal don’t map perfectly onto Illinois Republicans and Democrats. Still, director Jessica Fisch and a nuanced cast keep the tension high as niceties erode into recriminations. You may not buy that these characters would choose each others’ company, but you’ll believe their misery.
Cor Theatre at Pride Arts Center. By Jordan Tannahill. Directed by Jessica Fisch. With Tony Bozzuto, Matthew Elam, Paul Fagen, Tosha Fowler, Asia Jackson. Running time: 1hr 15mins; no intermission.