Review: At the Table (Broken Nose Theatre)

| August 9, 2017

Johnard Washington, Echaka Agba and David Weiss star in At the Table, Broken Nose Theatre            


At the Table

Written by Michael Perlman 
The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru Aug 26  |  pay-what-you-can  |  more info   


Easily the best and most necessary play I’ve seen this year


Adam Soule, Johnard Washington, Elise Spoerlein, Echaka Agba, David Weiss and Evan Linder

Broken Nose Theatre presents
At the Table

Review by Lauren Whalen

The Netflix series “Friends From College” is a comedy with soap-opera elements, but its most poignant moment is almost a throwaway. One character, a wealthy white woman, worries about being stopped by a cop. Her African-American lover, played by Keegan-Michael Key, remarks dryly that for him, cop interactions are nothing new. Like “Friends From College,”  Michael Perlman’s play At The Table focuses on a group of college friends who reunite as adults and find that much has changed, and much remains, unfortunately, the same. In its initial run this past winter, At The Table enjoyed sold-out Benjamin Brownson, Evan Linder, David Weiss and Adam Soule star in At the Tablecrowds and four Jeff Awards, including an acting nod for Echaka Agba. At The Table’s summer remount has been just as successful, and in its final extension, it’s easily the best play I’ve seen all year.

It’s summer 2016, and a group of thirtysomethings – four of whom met in college, two who are “new” – gather in a small cabin for a weekend retreat. No phones are allowed, drinking is encouraged. Lauren (Agba) finds herself constantly apologizing for her boyfriend Stuart (Evan Linder), who enjoys baiting feminist Chris (Elise Spoerlein). Neurotic Elliot (David Weiss) makes a tentative connection with Nicholas (Johnard Washington), and the latter points out to Lauren how much she bows and scrapes to her white friends. One year later, sans Nicholas and plus Elliott’s optimistic partner Leif (Benjamin Brownson) and Stuart’s new girlfriend Sophie (Jennifer Cheung) – who, like Lauren, is a woman of color – the group is together again, same cabin, same bad habits. And in Trump’s America, the conversations are very, very different.

David Weiss, Evan Linder and Echaka Agba star in At the Table, Broken Nose TheatreElise Spoerlein, Johnard Washington and Echaka Agba star in At the Table, Broken Nose Theatre Jennifer Cheung, Adam Soule, Evan Linder and Elise Spoerlein star in At the Table, Broken NoseEchaka Agba and David Weiss star in At the Table, Broken Nose Theatre Elise Spoerlein and David Weiss star in At the Table, Broken Nose TheatreBenjamin Brownson, David Weiss, Echaka Agba and Elise Spoerlein star in At the Table, Broken Nose Theatre

In the hands of a lesser playwright, At The Table could have been heavy-handed, full of sitcom-esque lessons and lacking in any humor whatsoever. Thankfully, Perlman knows his stuff: his script calls out baiting, white feminism, tokenism and countless issues that have even more weight during the first (hopefully, only) term of a President who brags about sexual assault, pokes fun at a disabled reporter and appears more corrupt every day. Perlman is also conscientious: written in 2015 during the Obama era (those were the days), At The Table had the same plot but a different, more hopeful ending. After the 2016 Presidential election, Perlman realized this ending was no longer realistic, and joined Broken Nose Theatre’s cast to rewrite the second act. At The Table is at times funny and entertaining, but is never, ever easy or comfortable, accurately reflecting our times, where even the simplest of conversations can lead to several minefields. And as painful as this is, it’s necessary: we do need to watch what we say, and more importantly, change how we think.

Director Spenser Davis doesn’t try to overwhelm the script with bells and whistles. Rather, he cast a terrific, intelligent group of actors (At The Table’s entire original cast returned for the summer remount), guides them carefully and thoughtfully, and lets them loose. Each is well-cast and unafraid to jump into the challenging, complex script. Agba won the Jeff for a reason: her performance is both humorous and heartbreaking, every syllable completely believable. At The Table’s extension is already sold out, but audience members have had good luck with the waiting list, and combined with Broken Nose’s pay-what-you-can structure, it’s completely worth going to Wicker Park and taking a chance. At The Table is essential theater for 2017: confrontational, provocative and unforgettable.

Rating: ★★★★

At the Table continues through August 26th at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 7pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are pay-what-you-can. More info at time: 2 hours 20 minutes, includes an intermission)

Evan Linder, Jennifer Cheung, Echaka Agba, David Weiss, Elise Spoerlein, Benjamin Brownson and Adam Soule

Photos by Matthew Freer




Evan Linder (Stuart), Echaka Agba (Lauren), Adam Soule (Nate), Elise Spoerlein (Chris), David Weiss (Elliott), Johnard Washington (Nicholas), Jennifer Cheung (Sophie), Benjamin Brownson (Leif)

Understudies: Bob Pantalone (Stuart), LaKecia Harris (Lauren), David Lipschutz (Nate), Julia Skeggs (Chris), Michele Stine (Chris-initial run), Tony Rossi (Elliott), Matt Singleton (Nicholas), Davon Roberts (Nicholas-initial run), Diana Lee (Sophie), Adam Huizenga (Leif)

behind the scenes

Spenser Davis (director), Rose Hamill (stage manager), JD Caudill (asst. director), Anna Medill (asst. director – initial run), Jennifer Aparicio (production manager), David Weiss (dramaturg), Liam Fitzgerald (technical director), Mike Sanow (technical director – initial run), William Allen (lighting design), Rafael Grimes (master electrician), Taylor Horst (costume design), Devon Green (props design), Elise Spoerlein (casting director), Matthew Freer (photos)

David Weiss and Echaka Agba star in At the Table, Broken Nose TheatreJohnard Washington, Echaka Agba and David Weiss star in At the Table, Broken Nose TheatreElise Spoerlein, Johnard Washington and Echaka Agba star in At the Table, Broken Nose Theatre


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Broken Nose Theatre, Den Theatre, Extensions-Remounts, Lauren Emily Whalen

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