Worlds collide when a tight foursome invite outsiders into their weekend house party. Stuart (played by Evan Linder), Lauren (played by Echaka Agba), Nate (played by Adam Soule), and Elliott (played by David Weiss) met in college and have been friends for fifteen years. They retreat annually to a house in the mountains. This year, Lauren decides to play matchmaker by bringing her work pal Nicholas (played by Johnard Washington). And Elliott chooses to introduce the group to his high school bestie, Chris (played by Elise Spoerlein). Over the influence of wine, weed and the two newbies, words will be spoken, actions will be taken and group dynamics will be changed forever.
The intimacy of the Berger Park Coach House is an ideal setting for this dinner party. Director Spenser Davis skillfully navigates us through the multiple relationships simultaneously imploding. Playwright Michael Perlman penned a layered exploration into the lives of a group of thirtysomethings. We are dropped into a dinner in progress. Wine and politics are being poured out. When a passionate and self-absorbed Linder pushes his theory on the possible future ramifications of fetus human rights violation, a forceful Spoerlein shuts him down. Spoerlein tells Linder as a man he has no voice ‘at the table’ in reproductive rights.
Perlman cleverly revisits this ‘at the table’ concept throughout the show. The idea being if you’re not the same gender, sexual orientation, race, economic level, you don’t have a right to voice your opinion. At one point, Agba even rejects Washington’s input into her love life by retorting that it’s a table for two and he has no seat. Each of these characters is looking for something … love, escape, home. And their friends are the obstacle or catalyst to getting to the goal. Perlman illustrates the influences relationships have on forming each persona. Perlman thought-provokingly examines relationships and identities. From the start, he packs plenty of baggage into this fun get-away. Conversations overlap. Wisecracks fly. Tensions mount.
Under Davis’ direction, this talented ensemble makes us both laugh and cringe. In not one but two poignant scenes, the outstanding Agba vulnerably expresses her concern about the roles she has played as the only black person and sometimes only woman in the group. The responses vary. Spoerlein, Weiss and Jennifer Cheung (Sophie) provide solidarity by uncomfortably giving her the floor. While Linder awkwardly tries to avoid the confrontation, Soule defensively accuses Agba of being ungrateful. And perhaps in the most memorable and relatable reaction,Benjamin Brownson (Leif) magnanimously asks Agba to express what she is feeling. Which Agba retorts that she just did and he isn’t listening. It’s that gut-punching epiphany moment that sets off the “Ding, ding, ding! Exactly the problem!” in my head.
I loved this show for a variety of reasons. Davis navigates it authentically. He puts us ‘at the table’ as the silent house guest. Life is in progress. The terrific ensemble tethers us to these friendships. We want to pour a glass and join in the merriment. And when it gets serious, we want to step in and help. We care about what happens! I want to have dinner again with this group in a year and see how everyone is doing. I highly recommend getting a seat AT THE TABLE.
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission
At Berger Park Coach House. 6205 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60660
Written by Michael Perlman
Directed by Spenser Davis
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 2:30pm
Thru March 11th
Tickets available at http://dime.io/events/at-the-t
All Tickets are Pay-What-You-Can, allowing patrons to set their own ticket price.
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