An Interview With At the Table Actor Cherish Monique Duke

The Road Theatre Company proudly presents Michael Perlman’s At the Table at the Lankershim Arts Center on May 17th through July 7th. This riveting play deals with six so-called liberal friends who realize on a weekend retreat that they are not as enlightened or diverse as they thought. Every week we will spotlight a member of the cast. This week the light shines on actress Cherish Monique Duke.

Q: Who do you play and what purpose does this character serve? 

A: I play Lauren, the only woman and person of color in a group of four long time college friends. She is the unapologetic mother of the group, the consummate host, the always helpful, always caring, always listening friend. At least in the first Act. 

Q: What are your challenges as an actor?

A: I’ve done too many shows to count at this point in my life, and this role ranks as one of the most challenging. Lauren is such a complicated character and what made it difficult at first was filling in the pieces that weren’t on the page. Figuring out her backstory, and what happened in her past that would answer how and why she feels the need to be so overly caring to her friends. Why can’t she see that she is mothering and “mammying” them? Why is she so dead set on this weekend going well and making sure Nicholas and Elliot end up together? Once I answered those questions, it was filling in the year in between the first and second Acts. Why does she come back to the cabin when she knows her ex-boyfriend is bringing his new date? Why does she give this speech about race? What has she discovered about herself in the last year that her friends don’t seem to see? Lauren changes so much from the beginning of the play to the end and that’s what makes the character so juicy to play. None of those questions are spelled out so you as the actor get the fun and challenging job of figuring it out. That’s the beauty of interpretation though, bringing words on a page to life by creating a layered history that drives the objective of the present circumstances and propels your character to their eventual future.

Q: How are you preparing?

A: I always like to start with my super objective. What does my character want and can’t live without. With that I can find my intentions, how do I go about getting what I want. Lauren’s friends are her family, she loves them so incredibly much and because of that love she wants to push them to be “better” versions of themselves. She does everything she can to make sure they are taken care of and that their needs are met, that she forgets herself and what she wants out of life. (A true statement for so many women.) I also love spending time with the script. Turning on some great meditation music and marinating on the language by reading and re-reading the lines, turning them over in my mind, and saying them out loud. Aside from the personal at home work, its spending quality time with this amazing cast. understanding each others rhythms, characterization and energy has been the secret sauce to this play and what makes it feel so natural and fun when we are out there together. If that’s the secret sauce then the meat is Judy (Moreland, director). Having intricate conversations, asking a million questions, and taking her notes was everything. 

Q: What is the theme or message of the play? 

A: There are so many messages and themes in this play, but the biggest one for my character is: Black people aren’t given the luxury of being able to truly define their identities. The world sees us and defines us by our skin color. We can’t wipe it off, or fake it, or create our own reality because no matter how hard we try our skin color is what people see first. You can wear the nicest suit, have the biggest bank account, and be the smartest man in America, but will still be accosted by the police and labeled (aka Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. ). So when people (liberals and conservatives alike) say, “can’t we all just get along” or “I dont see color” or “it only matters who you are inside not whats on the outside” thats a lie. Because what is on the outside IS what matters most for us. We can either embrace and love our difference and acknowledge the beauty of our skin color or we can remain blind to the idea that we even have a say in the matter. 

Q: Talk about your fellow castmates and your director.

A: This play and process wouldn’t be what its been without Judy. She is simply an incredible director not just for actors but staging and creatively as well. She allowed us to play so much and that sense of freedom mortified into the naturalistic energy we have on stage. She asks questions without giving answers, she gives notes that are spot on and she lets actors interpret characters for themselves without putting her own conventions on their ideas.. One of my favorite lines of hers was “the most uninteresting choice for an actor to make is to not listen. Its so much more interesting when they listen even if they are acting like they aren’t” (Amazing note).

How do I begin to talk about this cast! I mean we are stacked with such incredible talent, professionalism, and just over all amazing vibes. We all connect in such a deep way and we just love pushing each other and having fun. What I love most is that we all love this show and want it to be amazing so we work really hard at having each others backs, connecting, and having a synergy on stage. 

At the Table will play at the Lankershim Arts Center (5108 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood, CA 91601). The show opens on Friday, May 17th and runs through July 7th. Street parking available. For tickets call 818 766-8838.