Diversionary Theatre Presents U.S Premiere of THE HIGH TABLE

A Beautiful Piece About Family, Traditions, and What Love Really Means 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Monique Gaffney, Durwood Murray, Grandison Phelps, Taylor Henderson. Photo by Peggy Ryan

British Actor and writer Temi Wilkey wrote The High Table in 2017 as part of her Young Writers Group course. Six years later it makes its United States debut at San Diego's Diversionary Theatre and, definitely starting the stage year on the right foot because what a joy it was to see this play. There are different elements that make it special starting with the musical aspect. Audiences walk into the space and see percussionists Juan Carlos Blanco and Angélica Cardona starting the beat, the sound, and the mood for the night.

Three African elders, Yetunde (Monique Gaffney), Babatunde (Grandison Phelps), and Adebisi (Taylor Henderson) come onto the stage to resolve a matter happening on earth. Adebisi does not know why she is there as instead of being part of a council, she just wants her eternal rest. The situation down in San Diego is that Tara (Andrea Agosto) who is part of a very traditional African family, just made her parents aware that she is engaged to her girlfriend Leah (Taylor Henderson). Mosun (Monique Gaffney) and Segun (Grandison Phelps) will not have it because when Tara came out to them, she did so as bisexual which, in their mind, it meant she would marry a man. And Leah does not even look like a man or one of "those" lesbians Mosun pointed out. Leah (Taylor Henderson) has a totally different relationship with her family and is resenting Tara's secrecy. As they are planning the wedding, Segun's brother Teju (Durwood Murray) who lives in Nigeria, asks for him to come back home immediately as he is in trouble being extorted by the police who caught him at a gay party. He wants to leave Africa and be in San Diego Segun who does not agree and goes back home. Teju's tragic end along with Tetunde's own story while alive on earth brings a change of heart to the elders as well as Tara and Leah's story.

Juan Carlos and Leeka. Photo by Peggy Ryan

The back-and-forth between the actors playing two roles is contrasting and powerful not just histrionically but switching from the American to the African accent, a wonderful result from dialect coach Bibi Mama as well as Niyi Coker Jr's amazing direction that proved to be a challenging task between the character shifts, the intention, and belief of everything going in parallel. The deliveries were there and on point. Monique Gaffney as the eldest elder Yetunde is -literally- out of this world and I believe this is her best role yet, portrayed with intensity and truly moving.

The cast really understood the assignment, I enjoyed Taylor Henderson's work both as Leah and the elder Adebisi. I loved how she handled the African accent and the intention as a misunderstood or "hidden" partner with Tara and she looked amazing in Kathie Taylor's costume design both as a civilian who is a sensual, secure lawyer and as an elder. The design for the elders is beautiful as was the traditional wedding attire they used for Tara and Leah's wedding.

Taylor Henderson and Andrea Agosto. Photo by Peggy Ryan

Andrea Agosto is very tender as Tara and her delivery guides the thought provoking intention of the play. Grandison Phelps totally covers the concerned, older man and father who loves his daughter but does not know how to go against ingrained traditions. Durwood Murray as always, hit the mark and wrapped the plot with a nice twist at the end.

Yi-Chien Lee's set design is simple but really honoring tradition and colors. There are throws that work as curtains and sort of an entryway as well between dimensions which is creative and with-it. A good lighting design shapes moments, intensifies or props them and that is exactly what Annelise Salazar's design did just that using earthy orange, brown and yellow tones to highlight the story, same with Eliza Vedar's sound design that goes hand in hand with live percussion and recorded sounds capturing the intensity of this piece.

The High Table is a story about love in all its forms and how tradition sometimes can blur what is truly important.

Cufrrently playing until March 5. For performance dates and times please click HERE.



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