At the age of 23, gay Canadian playwright Jordan Tanahill wrote his play Late Company from a place of great anger. Back in 2012, following a spate of LGBTQ teenage suicides in North America, the conservative party in Canada released an "It Gets Better" video encouraging LGBTQ youth to seek out help.
"It felt like such a cynical ploy in my mindespecially considering their voting record at the time. They were defunding programs that would have directly benefitted LGBTQ youth like helplines, community centers and special education programs," said Tanahill during a phone conversation from London where he writing a new work for the National Theatre of Great Britain. "It felt like pure hypocrisy."
So Tanahill penned Late Company to examine the damaging effects of both overt and micro acts of aggression and discrimination toward queer youth by adults in middle-class and seemingly liberal communities. Set at a very uncomfortable dinner party, Late Company looks at two sets of parents and a student trying to find common ground a year after a highly publicized suicide of a gay teenager.
Tanahill admitted that it's an unlikely dramatic situation, though he says it ties into some extreme therapy trends he had read about concerning healing and restorative justice. Though he wrote Late Company from a place of rage, nowadays Tanahill says he feels much more empathy for his grown-up characters.
"How much should you intercede into your teen's life?" Tanahill said. "How do you confront a teen about depression, anti-social behavior or about their queerness? There are no easy answers and so five years out I have warmed more to the characters."
Just as Tanahill's attitudes have changed, so has Late Company. The play has kept its original Canadian place setting of Ottawa for prior productions in Toronto ( 2013 ), Vancouver ( 2014 ) and Los Angeles ( 2017 ), but Tanahill is allowing Late Company to be localized for its Chicago debut courtesy of Cor Theatre at the Pride Arts Center.
"My preference really is to keep it current and adaptable," Tanahill said. "So it can be done regionally and not just be tied to Ottawa."
"We're super-excited that Jordan was so flexible and gung-ho about allowing us to really localize it," said director Jessica Fisch, who is adding another layer to the play by refashioning one of the couples as mixed-race to better represent Chicago.
"The really interesting, informative things for the cast and for myself is doing the research into how politics reflects itself in this greater Chicago area, which we think of as being really liberal, is not as simple as blue and red," Fisch said. "We looked at the voting records of the past couple of elections for representatives and zeroed in on areas where conservative politicians have been elected as state politicians, while the area as a whole has voted democratic in national elections."
Fisch wouldn't reveal which exact Chicago suburb she decided to reset Late Company in, though she said, "We like to say it's probably a 'W' town somewhere on the North Shore."
Cor Theatre's Chicago premiere of Late Company plays from Saturday, June 17, through Sunday, July 16, at The Buena stage of the Pride Arts Center, 4147 N. Broadway St. Tickets are 18-$30. Call 866-811-4111 or visit CorTheatre.org .
In honor of Pride Month, many smaller theater troupes are putting on special LGBTQ-theme productions with limited runs. Here are a few to check out:
Unity in Dance features original dance pieces with LGBTQ themes choreographed and performed by members of Giordano Dance Chicago at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 18, at The Broadway stage of the Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway St. Tickets are $30 and $50. Call 800-737-0984 or visit PrideFilmsAndPlays.com .
Real people tell real stories about their lives in a special edition of You're Being Ridiculous: PRIDE that plays at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through June 21 at Steppenwolf Theatre's 1700 Theatre, 1700 N. Halsted St. Tickets are $20. Call 312-475-1650 or visit Steppenwolf.org .
Musical acts, comedy sketches and more are a part of Loud & Proud, an LGBTQ variety show co-hosted by Alex Garday and Cat McDonnell at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 15, and 10 p.m. Thursday, June 22, at MCL Chicago, 3110 N. Sheffield Ave. Tickets are $12. Call 773-610-5930 or visit MCLChicago.com .
Make America Gay AgainAn LGBTQA+ Sketch-travaganza plays 9 p.m. Thursdays through June 29, at Under the Gun Theater, 956 W. Newport Ave. Tickets are $12. Call 773-270-3440 or visit UnderTheGunTheater.com .
Drag Party Party is a variety show filled with improvised comedy and lip-syncing and features a mix of drag queens and drag kings like Celeste Izmore, Aunty Chen, Anita Cannoli, Justin Side and Pam Who? It all goes down at 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays through June 28 at the Annoyance Theatre, 851 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets are $10. Call 773-697-9693 or visit TheAnnoyance.com .
The Infinite Wrench: 30 Queer Plays in 60 Straight Minutes plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 22, 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 23 and 24, and 7 p.m. Sunday, June 25, at the Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland Ave. It's a benefit for YEPP ( Youth Empowerment Performance Project ), and tickets are $25. Call 773-878-4557 or visit NeoFuturists.org .
GayCo Productions, Chicago's oldest LGBTQ sketch comedy troupe, presents GAYWATCH at 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 23 and 24, at The Playground Theatre, 3209 N. Halsted St. Tickets to this heavily improvised comedy revue are $15. Call 773-871-3793 or visit GayCo.com .