It begins on Friday evening with a loud burst of raucous laughter and everyone shouting at once, and ends on Sunday morning with Lauren delivering a long, emotional monologue revealing her conflicted feelings about being the only woman of color in this “family” of friends.
The play is “At the Table” by Michael Perlman and it features eight people who arrive, singly and in pairs, to enjoy a weekend retreat in a lovely country house in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York.
The ostensible “host” is Elliott (Ray Paolantonio), who has gathered this motley group of friends and acquaintances together for some conversation, funny repartee, roughhouse teasing, lots of drinking, and a round of golf.
As the guests move from the dining room table to the large couch in the living room they are engaged in a heated discussion of abortion. Nicholas (Blake Young-Fountain), a handsome young black man new to the others, argues that abortion is immoral, whereupon Stuart (Justin Okin), the boyfriend of Lauren (Cherish Monique Duke) counters with his opinion that life begins at conception. The rest of the group agree that he is an asshole, and Nicholas ends the argument by challenging Stuart with “Fifty years from now do you want to be on the wrong side of history?”
Elliott’s long-time friend, Chris (Avery Clyde), speaks about the rights of women from her active role as a leader in a Women’s Rights group. Shortly afterwards, when she leaves the room for a few minutes, the men talk about her as a desirable woman, even though they suspect that she might be a lesbian.
Nicholas then bets Stuart and Nate (Christian Prentice) that he can read their minds, and they take the bet, for $200 apiece. Nicholas then tells them, correctly, the lustful thoughts they had about Chris, and pockets the $400.
Elliot and Nicholas, momentarily alone together, share an agonizing conversation about who they think they are and what they want from life. Elliot, drunk and moody, confesses “I don’t know who is me,” and Nicholas describes himself as “an Army brat who’s been looking for a home for a long time.”
Elliot, who apologizes for everything he contributes to any conversation, later announces that he is a Gold Star Gay, which he explains as “a gay man who has never slept with a woman.” In the second act, Leif (Nick Marcone), a Jewish gay man arrives with Sophie (Jacqueline Misaye), a woman who is “half Caucasian, half Japanese,” and contends that he is only gay part of the time because he is bisexual.
And so it goes, diverse discussions for three hours, until Lauren’s mournful wrap-up, in which she identifies all the other guests as “rich, white and privileged.” Although they feel that they represent “diversity”, she claims that they have “no diversity of perspective” and that she is not really part of their group. She is, she says, “One of that safe kind of black you can hang out with” and praises Nicholas for “really caring about being black.”
This wonderful ensemble is carefully directed by Judith Moreland, and despite its length it is continually engaging and astute, and because the characters as well as the conversations are interesting, it is well worth seeing.
“At the Table” can be seen at The Road on Lankershim, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., in North Hollywood, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 through July 7.
For reservations, call 818-761-8838 or visit www.roadtheatre.org online.