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Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011

Complex ‘Crumbs’ Doesn’t Need to Preach

Talented cast leads Renaissance Theaterworks production

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Dysfunctional families come in all colors. That’s one of the messages audiences might take away after seeing Crumbs From the Table of Joy, a Renaissance Theaterworks production now playing at the Broadway Theatre Center. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, Crumbs tells the story of a widowed father and his two daughters as they struggle for survival in 1950s New York. It is a memory play told through the eyes of the oldest daughter, 17-year-old Ernestine.

Ernestine is a keen observer. She realizes that the poverty and discrimination they faced in the rural South isn’t much different in the industrialized North. It just takes on different forms. Godfrey, their tall, handsome father, now toils in a bakery to support his family. Godfrey grieves for his wife and finds salvation in the words of a flimflam man, Father Divine. The family lives in a worn-down basement apartment in Brooklyn. Godfrey’s’ straight-laced lifestyle is turned on its ear by the sudden appearance of his wife’s sister. Although the hard-drinking, foul-mouthed Aunt Lily may not be an ideal influence on the girls, she liberates them from their notions of what a black woman can become. She is smart, sexy, vibrant, stylish and loving toward her nieces. It’s no secret that she wants to rekindle an old flame with their father, too. There must be many ways to avoid the temptation of lovely Lily, but Godfrey reaches an incredibly improbable and impulsive solution. He marries a white woman. As one might expect, this shocking revelation does not sit well with the daughters or Lily. Sparks fly almost instantly.

It’s no wonder that the sisters cling to each other as survivors in a storm. In this unfamiliar world, it must seem as though their father, their new home and even their blossoming bodies are strangers to them.

Crumbs From the Table of Joy
is produced in collaboration with UPROOTED Theatre. Two of UPROOTED’s co-founders appear in the play: Tiffany Yvonne Cox (Ernestine) and Marti Gobel (Lily). The cast also includes Cassandra Bissel (Gerte), Ashleigh LaThrop (Ermina) and Morocco Omari (Godfrey), under Dennis F. Johnson’s direction.

Contemporary African-American playwright Lynn Nottage gives her characters depth and complexity, and this talented cast brings them fully to life. However, the script contains enough preaching to make Crumbs feel longer than its two-hour length. Also, the play feels somewhat confining in its one location—the family’s cramped Brooklyn apartment (aside from one brief scene in which Godfrey meets Gerte).

The play is suitable for mature young adults and older audiences. It continues in the intimate Studio Theatre through Feb. 6. For tickets, contact the box office at 414-291-7800.