Walking into HERE Arts Center's At the Table was like intruding on an awkward weekend retreat composed of insecure old friends. Initially there was pleasant smalltalk, teasing, and an appropriate amount of bickering.
But it wasn't even five minutes into the play before things got really tense with a discussion on abortion at the dinner table. I firmly believe in a woman's right to choose, but I also believe in everyone's right to weigh in on the matter, regardless of whether or not their views match my own. So I wasn't offended when the forceful, often obnoxious Stuart made an argument for why abortion could be considered a moral grey area. I was, however, appalled, when he then compared abortion to the practice of slavery in America, morality-wise.
The guy struck me as an asshole, unaccustomed to losing arguments due to simply being the loudest participant. But he was entitled to his opinion, in any case; That's how intelligent debates are supposed to work. Chris, however, begged to differ. A feminist and advocate for women's rights, Chris articulated that abortion is solely a woman's issue because it concerns a woman's body. Therefore, she concluded that Stuart, being a man, wasn't invited to the conversation, but added that she'd be glad to talk to him about other issues such as marriage equality. Stuart was so flustered by this that he got up and left the table. While I didn't approve of Chris' denying men of their right to engage in morality debates on abortion, I admired her ability to stand up for herself.
I realized that this gathering of people (Lauren, Stuart, Elliot, and Nate) was a regular thing; they were all friends for many years, since college, and have met every year at Nate's getaway home to catch up. But this year, (the gang now in their mid-thirties) Elliot brought along a childhood friend named Chris, and Lauren invited a friend of her own (this one sporting a Trinidadian accent) named Nicolas. Their routine really was not too far off from the one I share with my group of friends from high school. Although we have distanced from one another over the years with college, jobs, and the passage of time, we always meet at least once annually to touch base. Because, our many differences aside, we'll always have the connection that comes from knowing somebody throughout their awkward teenage years.
Lauren, Stuart, Elliot, and Nate's annual vacation from the city was supposed to unite the friends, but it actually served to push them away from each other. Being trapped in a house for an entire weekend with exceptionally opinionated people made for tensions so high that I was frequently reminded about how much I hate phony dinner parties and prefer one-on-one interaction to larger, more unpredictable group settings.
Elliot blew up at Chris about her remark regarding her willingness to discuss marriage equality. As a gay man, he could not believe that she, a straight woman, could have anything to say about whether or not he has the right to get married.
Chris, in an uncharacteristic display for a feminist such as herself, assumed that Nate wasn't the primary caregiver of his daughters when he mentioned that he was a father.
Race came into play as Nicolas critiqued Lauren, an African American woman, for her behavior in her relationship with her boyfriend, Stuart, a white man, pointing out the way she would clean up after him and serve him, even on her own vacation. Lauren began to worry whether she was a "bad black person" and "woman."
When Lauren tried to set up Nicolas with Elliot, things abruptly turned for the worse.
I think we all have this hope that one day our futures will be more or less secure, and we will know precisely what we want to do, who we are, and how we want to live our lives. Our youth is the time reserved for great, bold mistakes. But surely by the time we become adults, finish college, and take on careers, we will have matured. Right?
At the Table was a simultaneously comforting and disconcerting reminder that no matter how old we get, we never quite have our shit together.
It also made me wonder: Maybe people are supposed to outgrow each other. Because certainly friendships should be fluid relationships and not forced. And if a scheduled weekend retreat is the only way for a group of people to stay in touch, then perhaps that group of people is really meant to go their separate ways.
The older I get, I find that I carry fewer friends with me. But instead of this upsetting me, it reinforces the bonds that I have with my existing friends. At the Table illustrated how life just happens, and how it can really get away from you sometimes. You're minding your own business and then BOOM, suddenly college was over 15 years ago, you're single and lonely, and you're left feeling like you aren't in the driver's seat of your own life. As understandably scary as that is, I can't help but think how boring life would be without its problems, both big and small. I guess it's important to keep in mind that just because we are grown up, doesn't mean we have finished growing as people.