"At the Table" Review- Broken Nose Theatre Shines in a Play about Real Communication

Broken Nose Theatre is currently presenting Michael Perlman’s play “At the Table”, directed by Spenser Davis at the Berger Park Coach House, 6205 N. Sheridan Rd. through March 11, 2017. Starring Evan Linder, Echaka Agba, Adam Soule, Elise Spoerlein, David Weiss, Johnard Washington, Jennifer Cheung and Benjamin Brownson, this performance runs 2 and 1/2 hours with one intermission, and could benefit from a little trimming. However, this is a complex piece with a lot going on, and it legitimately takes ample time to develop, time during which the audience is deeply involved. It's also clever and funny.

Jonnard Washington front and center in "At the Table"

The action opens with a group of friends and their guests arguing around a table in a distinctly not posh vacation- type house. After the intermission, some of the relationship dynamics and some of the members of the group have changed. We are given to believe the core group are rich, white and entitled, but believe themselves to be “diverse”, since one of them is gay, one is black, and one is half-Asian.

Although the argument at first is about gender politics- (specifically abortion issues and who has the “right” to talk about these issues; ie, who can come “to the table”)- the side discussions and later, the group discussions center around betting on each other’s thoughts, “outing” each other’s sexual secrets, and group-style pile-ups of affection.

David Weiss and Jonnard Washington in a scene from "At the Table"

The most intriguing dynamic, however, and the central issue in the play is the behavior, feelings and attitudes of the two black members- one a visitor who confronts the other about acting like a “mammy” before he storms out, the other this same black woman, Lauren, who is replaced in her lover’s affections by the half-Asian girl.

Sometime between the two get-togethers, Lauren comes to grips with her own long-buried feelings about her racial identity – in a word, she grows up. What ensues when she lays those feelings on the rest forces the denouement of the play. The acting here sparkles with real feeling; the characters are well-written, well-developed and each role has a meaningful place in the ensemble.

Echaka Agba and David Weiss in Broken Nose Theatre's performance of "At the Table"

This reviewer had the opportunity to speak with Spenser Davis, Director of Programming, Broken Nose Theatre who directed this play with a firm hand throughout and clear vision beforehand. Davis chose the play himself, having previously directed Perlman’s first play, “From White Plains”. As soon as he’d begun to read “At the Table”, he notes, “The characters stood out. It quickly dove into the deep end, the center of the controversy”.

 Davis and his colleague, Elise Spoerlein, Associate Artistic Director and Casting Director of Broken Nose Theatre (she also stars as Chris in the play) did the casting together. Interestingly, they held no auditions- “We hand-picked the actors across the board”. They chose well; each cast member is notably on point in the production.

Elise Spoerlein, Adam Soule, Evan Lindner, Jennifer Cheung and Benjamin Brownson in "At the Table"

 Davis likes to stage scenes in which the actors engage and speak “The way people talk in real life”. For this play, particularly, that was crucial, as he believes this is primarily a study in communication. In fact, it’s an exercise in meta-communication- these characters communicate about communicating. This could be tedious or self-conscious, but it never feels that way. Instead, the nuanced dialogue feels vital and real. The play is highly recommended- see it while it’s here- it will move you to think and also to communicate.

Benjamin Bownson, Evan Lindner, David Weiss, and Adam Soule in Broken Nose Theatre's performance of "At the Table"

 For information and tickets, go to the Brokennosetheatre website

 

All performances are pay-what-you-can!

 

All photos by Michael Freer

 

 

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