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At The Table: Let The Conversation Begin
By David Clarke
Michael Perlman's latest play is a discussion about America — and the struggle to find one's identity — with no clear-cut answers.
To paraphrase a once popular show on MTV: This is a fictional story of a group friends vacationing in a house to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. At the Table— which combines equal parts Same Time, Next Year (Bernard Slade), God of Carnage (Yasmina Reza), and Disgraced (Ayad Akhtar) — is Michael Perlman’s comedic and thought-provoking new play unflinchingly examines the ways in which we currently talk about gender, sex, sexuality, and race in contemporary America.
Following the success of his first play From White Plains, Perlman knew he wanted to do another play. He wanted to do one that focused on the way Americans talk about sexuality. However, as he began to craft this piece around his cast, it took on the broader scope of American discourse. The diverse cast of men and women in their twenties and thirties fumble their way through polite and impolite conversation, attempting to understand each other and the implications of their relationships. “We are finally in some ways confronting the experiment that America is, which is this idea of a melting pot—this idea of a place for all cultures to live and interact, have their own voice, and have freedom,” Perlman explains. That’s ultimately the driving force behind the play.
Naturally, with its roots in the conversations around homosexuality in the United States, there’s an interesting gay character named Elliott. “What I love about Elliott is that he fits into this world as just another person, and yet his sexual identity is something that’s very important to him,” Perlman tells Out. In the play, however, he seems to have a grasp on what he is looking for in a partner; then, as the play evolves he begins to appear clueless about his own desires.
“I know that is certainly true of myself, and I think that is true of a lot of people,” Perlman says. “I’m curious about my generation of the LGBT community because we grew up at a time when it was difficult to come out, and it was not part of the mainstream. But, we have kind of become adults at a time when it is easier to talk about and be more present.” Naturally, this confuses the stability of LGBT identity and shifts the playing field. Acceptance by the majority gives the community access to the rights that were fought for and opens the doors to more opportunities. “I find that there is a lot of confusion as to whether our identity is something that is mainstream or not,” says Perlman.
With meaningful and timely dialogue about important topics in American cultural identity bubbling up throughout the play, perhaps the most exciting and rewarding aspect of Perlman’s At the Table is that he never once offers an answer to the questions his script raises. The play, as he says, “is about the futility of having a conversation, and yet how necessary it is that it comes down to conversation.” At the Table invites us all to be present, share the table, and begin those hard conversations. It also asks that we stick them out, even if they are frustrating, so we can better understand who we all are and better appreciate our rich tapestry of differing human experience.