At the Table

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

The opening of Michael Perlman’s incisive play At the Table begins in competitive cacophony. Overlapping dialogue, shouted interjections and helpless laughter immediately immerse us in the world of four old friends, and a couple of newcomers, sitting around the dining table after dinner. Well lubricated from the bottles of wine consumed, the group is rambunctious and ready to push each other’s familiar buttons.

Stuart (Justin Okin), Nate (Christian Prentice), Lauren (Cherish Monique Duke) and Elliot (Ray Paolantonio) are college friends who meet for a weekend every year. Over the course of the play Chris (Avery Clyde), Nicholas (Blake Young-Fountain), Sophie (Jacqueline Misaye) and Leif (Nick Marcone) will be invited to join the group with varying degrees of success.

The play has no conventional plot beyond the gatherings and most of the drama comes from small incidents. Perlman uses his smart and funny dialogue to reveal his characters in a realistically leisurely fashion. But Perlman also understands the eloquence of the unfinished line. A technique he uses to great advantage when his normally glib characters are forced to face uncomfortable realities

Topics run the gamut of hot-button issues from reproductive rights to racism, but the discussions never feel programmatic. You may, in fact, find eerie resonances with the chat you had in the lobby before the house opened.

Descriptions of the play trumpet it as a Big Chill for millennials. But the Chekhovian feel and the politics simmering just below the surface seem to point more to films like Return of the Secaucus Seven, or plays like The Fifth of July.

Judith Moreland directs the production with a keen appreciation for the ebb and flow of the script’s constant conversation. And it is in no small part a tribute to her skill that the two-and-a-at the half hour running time never drags. She has cast a remarkable group of actors who bring their characters to vivid life in every moment of the play. Also helping to ground those performances is the lovely and detailed set by Brian Graves.

The cast works as a seamless ensemble, intricately charting the allegiances and annoyances of the old friends as well as the ways the newcomers affect their all-too-comfortable dynamics. By the play’s end, seismic truths will be told that rock the foundation of their relationships. The fissures are deep and the damage may be irrevocable.

The Road Theatre Company closes their season with this timely and valuable addition to the LA theatre scene.

Road Theatre on Lankershim    May 17 – July 7, 2019