At The Table in TheaterMania

Check out this excellent interview in TheaterMania with Michael Perlman, director and writer of At The Table!

Michael Perlman Explores the Way the World Is Changing in His New Play, At the Table

By David Gordon

Perlman is the GLAAD Award-winning author of the acclaimed From White Plains.

"What happens to us in a changing world when those in the center of the conversation are really on the periphery, and those in the minority suddenly find themselves at the center of the dialogue?" That's the question at hand in At the Table a new play from GLAAD Award-winning dramatist Michael Perlman. Running at HERE through July 19 in a production Perlman directs for Fault Line Theatre, the work finds a group of friends seated around a dinner table, engaging in a tense discussion about some very sensitive and emotional subjects.

For Perlman, the author of the acclaimed drama From White Plains, it was the chance not to explore societal taboos, but as a way to examine the way people today have conversations. He shared with TheaterMania his thoughts on how "the cultural tide is changing," why plays that go for the gut aren't really getting produced, and what goes into making a play set around a dinner table exciting.

Michael Perlman is the writer and director of the new play At the Table, running at HERE through July 19. 

Michael Perlman is the writer and director of the new play At the Table, running at HERE through July 19. 

Tell me about the origins of this play. Where did it come from?
After the success of From White Plains, Aaron and Craig, the co-artistic directors of Fault Line Theatre, and I wanted to do another show together. I was curious about the ways in which conversations are happening in America, and the ways in which the culture is changing. Being in my thirties, I’m looking around at myself and my friends and seeing that we are at the point in our lives where we are realizing we have to make decisions about who we’re going to be in the world — how we’re going to interact and what we’re going to care about. The country as a whole in a similar place — as we face a moment when the cultural tide is changing and the straight white man is no longer at the center of every conversation, how will we as a country respond and grow? The challenge, of course, was making that about actual people.

How many “taboo” subjects would you say you cover in this play, and which one, as a writer, proved the most potent in terms of dialogue?
I never thought of this play as a play about “taboo” subjects, so that’s difficult to answer. It’s a play about how to have conversations, so of course difficult topics are useful in exploring that. For me, what was most exciting as a writer was when characters started having conversations with themselves — when one character questions her own place in her group of friends and in the world as a black woman, that was the both easiest and most difficult to write.

Is this play a response to the fact that theater today seems very easy to swallow?
I think everybody who makes theater is attempting to go for the heart, mind, and gut. So if we don’t always succeed, I don’t think it’s because the artists aren’t going for them. I think there’s a lot of fear of going there. Will we get produced? Will audiences come? What will critics say? What do I have to say about this topic? What happens when we reveal the worst parts of ourselves to the world? But we’re always trying to, and I believe everybody who makes theater or any kind of art is always trying to do these things.

As director, how do you make a series of conversations around a dinner table dramatically compelling?
I try to create as much variety as possible. And make sure that we’re tracking everybody’s different experiences of the conversations. Who is quiet, and how do we draw the audience’s attention to that person for a moment? Who gets up and removes him or herself from the conversation? Who dives right into the center of every conversation? Who asks questions? Who always has an answer? Who can’t get a word in? It’s about making sure that the conversations themselves are about the characters and the questions being raised, not just about the topics themselves. There’s a whole lot more going on than the words, and that’s always true. It’s a matter of using the same principles I would when directing a big crowd scene with lots of action to a smaller scene around a table.

As writer, what do you want the audience to take away after having seen the play? As director, are your goals different? Do they change from medium to medium?
I want the audience to leave ready to engage with their own lives. I hope that they have questions about the ways in which they engage in conversation, the ways in which they judge themselves and others, and the ways in which the world works. And they begin to ask those questions, of themselves and of others, in order to begin more conversation. Ideally the end of this play is the beginning of a much longer conversation. As a director, I want the same thing, and want it for every piece I work on.

Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg

Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg

At The Table on Cast and Loose

Cast and Loose typically curates problematic breakdowns "with the hopes of shedding a humorous light on some very serious issues in the Entertainment Industry: misogyny, racism, ageism, body shaming, heteronormativity, and objectification to name a few."

We'd like to thank them for taking a brief detour from their usual programing to feature and op ed about At The Table.

Check it out below:

2 Straight White Guys and The New York Times

For those of you who come to CastAndLoose to blow off breakdown steam, I apologize for diverging a bit, but something has happened in the downtown NY theater scene that is not only unfortunate, but strikes on the themes and problems in the entertainment industry, on which I hope to shed some light with this Tumblr.

To be upfront from the start, I am biased. I like Fault Line Theatre a lot. I like the guys who run it, I like the work they produce, I like that they pay their actors, I like that they support new work and new writers. And I like their current offering at HERE Arts CenterAt The Table, and I’m hugely disappointed in The New York Times for their review

Though generally an ensemble piece, this play closely follows the emotional arch of a black woman - a voice grossly underrepresented on NY stages. There is a gay, Trinidadian man, a half Asian woman, a bisexual man, another gay man. And there are two straight, white guys. But the New York Times reviewer (aside from apparently having never attended a play in the round before) only managed to comment on and name the two straight, white guys. Even the picture they chose to run with the article is of three white guys.

Reviews are, of course, part of the game in theater. Reviewers play an important role in the commerce of the stage, and no one more so than a reviewer for the New York Times. That is not to say that audiences don’t put their faith in the talented writers at Variety, TimeOut NY, Entertainment Weekly and other sources as well, but the New York Times has been, and continues to be, the most powerful written factor in whether or not a show is well attended. 

That means, then, that a downtown production - into which a small, persevering company has thrown a lot of hard earned dollars - lives or dies by the words of the Times. Where, in the case of this review, these particular words so wholly bypassed the underrepresented voices present in the production, and focused primarily on the reviewer’s poor choice of a seat, the theater company loses out, readers and audience members lose out, those unheard voices lose out. We all lose out. 

Go see At The Table. Who knows, you might not like it - I don’t really care. Go see it. Go see it to take the power away from The Times. Go see it to support unheard voices. Hell, go see it to support downtown theaters that pay their actors. But don’t let this reviewer’s inability to see anything but two straight, white guys quash a great night of theater.

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At The Table feature

Thank you Kenneth Jones for featuring At The Table and writer/director Michael Perlman on your blog. Check out the piece below!

Chekhov, College Colleagues and Millennials Sit “At the Table” of Writer-Director Michael Perlman’s New Play

By Kenneth Jones

Playwright-director Michael Perlman, whose “At the Table” is making its world premiere Off-Broadway.

Playwright-director Michael Perlman, whose “At the Table” is making its world premiere Off-Broadway.

The safety of a past artistic home and the trust of familiar collaborators are two important table legs in the creation of the new ensemble drama At the Table, the latest project from Off-Broadway’s Fault Line Theatreand playwright-director Michael Perlman. It began June 13 atHERE Arts Center, where it continues to July 19. If you have any affinity for the sensitive, politics-and-personality-punctuated ensemble plays of Lanford Wilson (say, Fifth of July) or Terrence McNally (say, Love! Valour! Compassion!), and if grassroots independent theatre is a passion, this is an essential new play for you to experience, from a rising voice of a new generation and an ambitious young company.

Maybe you saw the feature I wrote about this production for TDF Stages magazine. I wanted to share more of my chat with director-playwright Perlman. Check it out below.

Clockwise, from foreground head of table: Craig Wesley Divino, Aaron Rossini, Rachel Christopher, Jude Sandy, Claire Karpen, Jimmy King in Act One of “At the Table.” (Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg)

Clockwise, from foreground head of table: Craig Wesley Divino, Aaron Rossini, Rachel Christopher, Jude Sandy, Claire Karpen, Jimmy King in Act One of “At the Table.” (Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg)

The making of the new humor-laced play about culturally eclectic friends in their thirties who take stock of themselves at a country house in a time of (current) societal shifts mirrors the developmental process of Perlman’s From White Plains, an earlier (acclaimed) production by Fault Line. Both plays were grown from the ground up, starting with an idea and a few pages. A full script later blossomed in workshops and rehearsals, in the company of artists who had come of age together in college.

“We set an opening night when I had just an idea,” Perlman says of From White Plains, his GLAAD Media Award-winning drama about the public fallout of a high school gay bullying experience, which Fault Line produced in 2012-13. “After I wrote just part of the first scene for At the Table, Fault Line applied to HERE Arts Center and booked the space.” (It’s at HERE’s 99-seat Mainstage.)

The playwright and Fault Line co-artistic directors Craig Wesley Divino and Aaron Rossini (who also appear in the new play) are alumni of Brown University’s graduate theatre program; the cast members have connections to Brown, too.

Rachel Christopher and Jimmy King in “At the Table” at HERE Arts Center. (Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg)

Rachel Christopher and Jimmy King in “At the Table” at HERE Arts Center. (Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg)

Here’s how Fault Line bills the play: “What happens in a changing America when those at the center of the conversation suddenly find themselves on the periphery, and those who have been marginalized begin to have their voices heard?At the Table tells the story of a diverse group of friends on their annual retreat away from the city. Expecting good times and casual conversation, as liquor flows and tongues loosen, what emerges is a struggle to define their own identities. No subject is taboo and no issue is safe. While exploring who they believe themselves to be, they discover how others see them and where they stand in the ever-changing landscape of 21st century politics.”

The cast includes Rachel ChristopherCraig Wesley DivinoClaire KarpenJimmy KingBen MehlAaron RossiniJude Sandy and Stacey Yen (who was so good in Naperville, a play that I profiled for TDF Stages and on my website).

The production team includes scenic designer Tristan Jeffers, lighting designer John Eckert, sound designer Chad Raines, props designer Becky Phillips, and costume designer Izzy Fields. Jill Rafson is the dramaturg (as she was for The Flea’s ambitious multi-play event The Mysteries). Elizabeth Ann Goodman is the stage manager. Jenn Tash is technical director. Sean M. Daniels is production manager.

Aaron Rossini (seated), Jimmy King (below) and Craig Wesley Divino (on top) in “At the Table.” (Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg)

Aaron Rossini (seated), Jimmy King (below) and Craig Wesley Divino (on top) in “At the Table.” (Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg)

Visit for tickets. If you’re a TDF member, discount tickets have appeared at Fault Line operates on a transitional Off-Broadway contract, with a top price of $29 (there’s a $5 discount with a valid student ID). HERE is at 145 Sixth Avenue at Dominick, one block south of Spring Street. Performances play Wednesday through Sunday at 8:30 PM (as well as 4 PM July 12 and 19).

For more information, visit

Here are excerpts from my chat with director-playwright Michael Perlman.

At the Table was written and workshopped over the past 18 months and further shaped in the rehearsal period for the current production. Given the intertwined, intimate relationships of the characters (and your shorthand with cast members, most of whom you have worked with), how important were questions from the actors and how important was it for you to divorce yourself from the cast and look at it all as objectively as possible, as a director-writer?

Michael Perlman: It’s a complete meeting of questions from the actors and looking at it as a director and writer. Because I’m writing and directing it, which has its benefits and negatives, my primary collaboration is with the actors, so I am relying on them so much to spark the conversation, and to ask questions. (We have a wonderful dramaturg, Jill Rafson, but she [wasn’t] in rehearsal every day). One thing that I like to do is go around and ask them “what scene they want to see?” or “what combination of people do you want to see?” At the very least, it starts my brain going as to what that scene could be. It helps me get over the hump of writer’s block whenever I have it. And then a lot of it is also me just watching and trusting my instinct.

Michael Perlman in rehearsal. 

Michael Perlman in rehearsal. 

Your original setting of Act Two was a city restaurant, where the friends from Act One’s lake house reunite. You changed that late in the game, in the weeks leading up to first preview. It’s now all set in a lake house, with the second act about a year later.

Michael Perlman: I was having a lot of trouble writing Act Two at the house, which is where I was originally planning to set it, and leaving for the restaurant allowed me to write and see who these characters are in a different setting, which helped me hear their voices better. But my brain [was] saying, “I’m not ready to leave the country house. I thought I was, but I’m not.” And I adjusted from there.

These people are still in flux, still figuring out how to define themselves.

Michael Perlman: Our generation is faced with so many more choices and so much more information. In some ways that’s such a gift. But it also leads to a lot more anxiety and existential crises because you always feel like you’re going to make the wrong choice.

The cast is made up of actors you knew from college — Brown University, where you earned undergrad and grad degrees in theatre. How did that trust aid in your storytelling process?

Michael Perlman: [Without them] there would have been a longer period of getting to know everyone — a longer period of knowing who to go to for feedback. My job is to hear the note behind the note. Knowing people allows you to know the note behind the note almost immediately. If they’re asking about one thing, what they’re really not feeling good about may be this other thing. So much of the new play process is living in the unknown. Particularly as a writer and director, having actors who trust me makes a huge difference — that even when I don’t know something, we’ll be working together to get there. [It takes] the pressure off me to have to pretend that I know things I don’t know.

Sounds likes the way you make theatre is something of a democracy.

Michael Perlman: It’s not a democracy, but everybody gets a voice.

Fault Line co-artistic directors Aaron Rossini and Craig Wesley Divino at the rehearsal table.

Fault Line co-artistic directors Aaron Rossini and Craig Wesley Divino at the rehearsal table.

You set the play in a country house, but it’s not owned by any of these characters. It’s owned by the parents of one of the characters.

Michael Perlman: These aren’t adults yet. Nate [played by Aaron Rossini] has kids, so he’s the closest, but in some ways they’re playing “pretend.” There was talk about making a change in Act Two — that maybe by Act Two Nate’s parents have died, so it’s now his house, but it felt like that would be hanging over the place so much.

The shadow of Chekhov hangs over the house. Were the country-house plays of the Russian master an influence?

Michael Perlman: Absolutely. I directed Uncle Vanya as my thesis in grad school. It’s one of the favorite things I’ve done. He was asking what happens to people at a time of change. Sometimes in his plays it seems like nothing is changing but the amount of anxiety that produces is because you know something has to change, there’s change coming, and you don’t know what you’re going to do.

Clockwise from left: Jimmy King, Ben Mehl, Craig Wesley Divino, Stacey Yen, Aaron Rossini, Claire Karpen and Rachel Christopher in “At the Table.” (Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg)

Clockwise from left: Jimmy King, Ben Mehl, Craig Wesley Divino, Stacey Yen, Aaron Rossini, Claire Karpen and Rachel Christopher in “At the Table.” (Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg)

What do you admire about his work?

Michael Perlman: How personal and political he was; the ways he blended humor and pathos; when characters who are in extreme pain allow you to laugh. Also the way he structures his plays in terms of people arriving and people leaving — that is something I looked to when trying to figure out what this play is.

So, is Chekhov why you set the play in the country?

Michael Perlman: Partly. I’m really lucky that my parents have country house. There’s something about being isolated from the city, being out of your lives, and the ways in which we’re different people when we’re together all the time as opposed to just for a dinner: It’s so hard in New York to do actually nothing together, and I think it’s in the doing nothing that the most questions come up. It was important to me that it was someone’s parents’ house; and that there is this “playing house” quality to it. Taking ownership of a place that’s not yours and trying it on.

To stand on a foundation that’s not your own?

Michael Perlman: Yeah, and wonder if it’s the foundation you want.

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