Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Crumbs from the Table of JoyfreeFall Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of Noises Off and Love Sung in the Key of Aretha


Michael Kinsey, Trenell Mooring (front);
Alicia Thomas, Rae Davis (rear)

Photo by The Photo Ninja
I believe Lynn Nottage is one of our most successful living playwrights; Wikipedia currently lists 11 full-length plays, and she is the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes (Ruined and Sweat). freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg is offering one of her earliest, Crumbs from the Table of Joy, first produced in 1995.

This play takes place in the memory of 17-year-old Ernestine Crump during the transitional time in 1950 when her recently widowed father moved the family from Florida to Brooklyn. The other central characters are her younger sister Ermina, their aunt (mother's sister) Lily, a self-assured modern woman, and Gerte, the German woman their father meets and quickly marries.

I could tell almost immediately that this is an early work, still I can see hints of the mature works to come: A group of (usually) African-American characters in a specific time and place who provide the opportunity to explore the world they inhabit and the rich relationships between them. There is too much narrative for Ernestine, probably almost one third of the first act, so much so that it seriously weakens the effect of her final monologue which otherwise might have far more impact. Still, I believe even early Lynn Nottage is worth seeing.

freeFall's cast is a strong one. Alicia Thomas gives a stong performance as Ernestine, gawky and unsure of herself in act one, steadily more confident in act two. She provides a really nice arc, aided by fine writing by Ms. Nottage. Michael Kinsey is Godfrey Crump, the emotionally solid rock that binds the family together, as he reaches out and discovers new meaning in religious beliefs. Mr. Kinsey is one of the founding members of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota, but in the past few years film and other media work seem to have kept him from being more of a presence on area stages, which is a huge loss to audiences. He breathes warmth and caring into this part. Trenell Mooring looks glamorous and covers the wide emotional range of Lily Ann Green. The scene in which she finally lets it out that she would have liked to have taken her sister's place in Godfrey's bed and as mother to the children is richly played.

Rae Davis does what she can in the role of Ermina Crump, but the two sisters are not equally well written and Ermina doesn't provide many opportunities. Emilee Dupré as Gerta Crump, fleshes out the part with warmth after Gerta marries Godfrey, but it's not a central part.

Jacqueline Thompson directs strongly, minimizing the imperfections of a newbie playwright, keeping the important pieces of the family drama in focus. Frank Chavez (costumes), Tom Hansen (set design), and Dalton Hamilton (lighting) all make solid contributions to the overall effectiveness of this production. Artistic Director Eric Davis has designed sound and projections that really give audiences a feel for the era.

I'm glad to have the opportunity to catch Crumbs from the Table of Joy, even if it is not one of Lynn Nottage's most important plays. Now, will someone stage Ruined and By the Way, Meet Vera Stark in this region?

Crumbs from the Table of Joy, through April 14, 2019, at freeFall Theatre, 6099 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg FL. For ticket and performance information, visit www.freefalltheatre.com.

Cast:
Ernestine Crump: Alicia Thomas*
Ermina Crump: Rae Davis
Godfrey Crump: Michael Kinsey
Lily Ann Green: Trenell Mooring*
Gerte Crump: Emilee Dupré*
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association


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