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Home #Hwoodtimes Murray Mednick’s THREE TABLES: Language, Memory, & the Frightening Future

Murray Mednick’s THREE TABLES: Language, Memory, & the Frightening Future

Christen (Laura Ligouri)& Mike (Corey Rieger) seem to doubt the playwriting ideas of Roger (Michael Uribes)

By Jim Gilles

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 4/25/22 – Opening Saturday April 23 at the Zephyr Theatre on Melrose in West Hollywood is a new play “Three Tables” by veteran playwright Murray Mednick. This play is a production of Padua Playwrights and directed by 82-year-old Mednick himself.

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In Three Tables, six actors occupy two of the three tables at one restaurant, overseen by two waiters. Petty animosities, meta-theatrical references and allusions to the Holocaust are juxtaposed in Mednick’s existential meditation on the advent of tyranny, the frightening “knock at the door” that ends the play. At one table in the restaurant are three actors, who are talking off and on about a play that Rodger (Michael Uribes) is supposed to be writing, but lacks for ideas. He is taunted by red-haired Christen (Laura Liguori) who seems more interested in her idea of sex without physical contact and being taken seriously as an actress. Laura Liguori has been in many of Mednick’s earlier plays Joining them at the same table is Mike (Corey Rieger) who seems to have a stronger Jewish connection and makes oblique references to history and the Holocaust and seems to feel that some terrible event like the Holocaust is about to occur once again..
Playwright Murray Mednick, who directed his own play Three Tables at the Zephyr Theatre
Joe (John Fantasia) and grey-haired Sal (Richard Sabine) as waiters at the restaurant in the play

Eventually a trio of younger actors shows up in the restaurant and take their seats at a different table. They seem to have come from a play rehearsal but that is never clarified. The most vocal is Margie (Raquel Cain), who has been in many of Mednick’s earlier plays. At first, she seems to imitate the motions of red-headed Christen, but she seems to have deeper insights in the past than the others. The actors at the two tables are aware of each other, yet lost in their language. Don (Dennis Renard) has a tendency to repeat tag lines from Margie and occasionally break into song, as if to express something inside himself. Casey (Eric Stanton Betts), with his statuesque physique, seems to occupy a space of his own, echoing the others or lost in his own thoughts.

Eventually a trio of younger actors shows up in the restaurant and take their seats at a different table. They seem to have come from a play rehearsal but that is never clarified. The most vocal is Margie (Raquel Cain), who has been in many of Mednick’s earlier plays. At first, she seems to imitate the motions of red-headed Christen, but she seems to have deeper insights in the past than the others. The actors at the two tables are aware of each other, yet lost in their language. Don (Dennis Renard) has a tendency to repeat tag lines from Margie and occasionally break into song, as if to express something inside himself. Casey (Eric Stanton Betts), with his statuesque physique, seems to occupy a space of his own, echoing the others or lost in his own thoughts.

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Besides the two waiters serving the tables and complaining to themselves about their customers, the play’s momentum comes from the central issue of what it is supposed to be about – and that lands squarely on the character of Rodger (Michael Uribes) who is supposed to write it. He suffers from extreme nervousness and makes him shake all the time, although he claims that once on stage, he is in control. Lacking any controlling metaphor to shape the play that they are supposedly rehearsing, Mike (Corey Rieger) suggests they imagine a well, an image seemingly borrowed from the Bible and think about a character named Rachel who they decide will be thrown down the well to die. It is not clear that the Biblical story of Rachel, one of the wives of Jacob, is pertinent, but the idea of a well will dominate the rest of this play.

Lost and uncertain – Don (Dennis Renard), Don (Eric Stanton Betts) & Margie (Raquel Cain)

In his work for the stage Murray has always followed the artist’s creed to “make it new” and for him, this generally means writing plays that are anti-narrative. In his six decades writing for the stage this has meant finding some new technical challenge to guide his curiosity about the expressive capacities of actors on stage speaking to one another. With Three Tables that challenge involves the capacity of everyday dinner-table conversation to reveal, through the musical interplay of thought, emotion and embodiment, something refined about the human situation. The musicality here has to do with timing, the aspect of dialogue that links Murray to the be-bop musicians – Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Artie Shaw – he listened to as a young man working in restaurants in the Catskills and writing poetry.

Margie (Raquel Cain) making a point to Don (Dennis Renard) & Casey (Eric Stanton Betts)

Occupying our present moment, Joe and Saul serve food to their dinner guests, having updated versions of the kinds of exchanges people would have had back at some vaguely indeterminate time in the past. Various characters recount their experiences of emotional pain, the meaning of love, the nature of anti-Semitism, along with insights about Kabbalah. Through a symphonic weave of everyday intelligence, the play transports us into a timeless present, and then speaks sobering truths about the arrival of fascism in the USA. While enjoying colorful characters sharing time on an evening out on the town, we see in the bottom of an imagined well of darkness creeping across the land.

A seemingly desponent Mike (Corey Rieger) with Rodger (Michael Uribes)

Clearly in Mednick’s play are traces of his earlier works including Fedunn, written in the 1990s and performed in 2004 at the Odyssey in West Los Angeles in production directed by Mitch Ryan. Fedunn also featured exquisite timing around the serving of diners in a restaurant amid conversations about the destruction of European Jewry at the hands of the Nazis. That same monster has learned to speak American now, and Three Tables calls it out and shines a light on fears of a new fascism through the language fired in sometimes oblique exchanges by these actors as they attempt to make sense of themselves and their roles in a greater drama that looms outside the theatrical space.

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Christen (Laura Ligouri) wondering about her ability to act in a play

Actually, the characters in Three Tables are not quite ordinary people having drinks and dinner. Rather, they are theatre people. This allows Murray to comment, obliquely and directly, on how the art of theatre pertains to the larger issues in the world at large and the creeping spectre of fascism we see more and more today. The actors in the play all seem to feel inadequate and unable to make a difference in doing anything about the dangers ahead. The play laments the re-mounting of an especially degrading spectacle, and it does so with humor, pathos and, of course, exquisite timing. We should all fear “the knocking at the door.”

Mednick is an American playwright and poet. He is best known as founder of the Padua Hills Playwrights Workshop/Festival, where he served as artistic director from 1978 to 1995. The Padua Hills Playwrights Festival was a vibrant theatre in Claremont/Upland from 1978 to 1995, when Mednick was the artistic director of the group while teaching at the University of La Verne nearby. The list of plays written by Mednick is long and several from his “Gary Plays” series have been made into films, written by Mednick in conjunction with his longtime collaborator Guy Zimmerman. Both Mednick and Zimmerman are practitioners of theatre inspired by the great Polish experimental theatre director Grotowski and they are not fond of naturalistic theatre which draws too much on method acting and standard television and film plots. The Padua Hills Playwrights Festival ran from 1978 through 1995 in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains and at venues across the Los Angeles area, attracting theatrical talents such as Sam Shepard, Jon Robin Baitz, Maria Irene Fornes, John Steppling, Kelly Stuart and David Henry Hwang. The Padua Playwrights Festival was resurrected in 2001 by artistic director Guy Zimmerman.

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Mednick’s Three Tables is a one-act play that opened April 23, 2022, and runs through May 22, 2022 at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046. Performances are weekends only: Fridays at 8 p.m.: April 29, May 6, May 13, May 20; Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 23 (Opening Night), April 30, May 7, May 14, May 21; Sundays at 3 p.m.: April 24, May 1, May 8, May 15, May 22. Tickets: General Admission: $25. For tickets, go to: https://www.onstage411.com/newsite/show/play_info.asp?show_id=6177