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Burning Coal Theatre Company Preview: An African-American Family Gathers Crumbs from the Table of Joy

May 29, 2003 - Raleigh, NC:


From May 29 to June 15, Burning Coal Theatre Company will present the Triangle premiere of Crumbs from the Table of Joy, written by prize-winning Brooklyn-born African-American playwright Lynn Nottage and directed by local director/actor/dramatist Carmen-maria Mandley, in the Kennedy Theatre at the rear of the BTI Center for Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC. Set New York City in the 1950s, just before the Civil Rights Movement began its long harrowing march toward racial equality, Crumbs is an amusing and poignant coming-of-age story of life as seen through the eyes of 17-year-old Ernestine Crump (played here by Rowena Johnson).

Crumbs takes its title from a poem called "Luck" written by African-American poet Langston Hughes (1902-67):

Sometimes a crumb falls from the tables of joy,
Sometimes a bone is flung.
To some people love is given,
To others, only heaven.

"I was able to hear [Crumbs from the Table of Joy] a few years back at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, in a staged reading," says Carmen-maria Mandley. "The playwright, Lynn Nottage, was there and spoke to us all after the reading was over. I remember being struck by just the hearing of the textthe way the words weave and paint such intense images."

Mandley, who is youth education director for Raleigh Little Theatre, says: "Crumbs is a memory play about an African-American family in the 1950s. Still stinging from his wife's death, Godfrey Crump (Vaughn Michael) picks up and moves from his Florida home to New York City. In a swirl of grief and regret, he turns to Father Divine for relief. His daughters, Ernestine and Ermina (Lucinda Harris), take to Brooklyn a great deal sooner than they take to Father Divine, and [they] fall in love with the cinema, the city, and moving on from [the] pain of their mother's loss.

"Straight from Harlem, The Communist Party, and the sexual revolution, Godfrey's sister-in-law, Sister Lily Ann Green (Renee Sallee), shows up to stay for a while and 'Look after the girls,'" Mandley explains. "Old business between Godfrey and Lily explodes and sends him out to clear his head, only to meet his new wifea white German woman named Gerte (Hope Hynes)on the train. Upon their arrival home, the play escalates into a clash between religion, revolution, race, and history, all [seen] through the eyes of a young Ernestine."

Besides Mandley, the Burning Coal production team for Crumbs from the Table of Joy includes set designer Jennifer Mann Becker, lighting designer Chris Bernier, costume designer Sonya Drum, and sound designer Jared Coseglia.

When asked what made her want to direct Crumbs, Mandley replies, "I love the history and the people: the way they kind of ricochet off of each other [and] the way they see the world. [I]t's as if they each live in a different land. The way Godfrey grieves and loves, the fear and need and mysterious loyalty of Gerte, the New York and the pain and the Communist and the drink of Lily, and the sisterhood of Ermina and Ernestinecompounded by the character of New York City, which can't and won't be ignoredmakes this one of my favorite plays."

In reviewing the original production of Crumbs at Second Stage Theatre in New York City in the mid-1990s, Clive Barnes of the New York Post raved: "Imagine a pairingartistically, of coursebetween Tennessee Williams and Lorraine Hansberry, a memory play about a black family, a glass menagerie in the sun.... Crumbs from the Table of Joy [is] a small window into the past, and this almost voyeuristic glimpse is worth attention." Jan Stuart of Newsday wrote: "From her gorgeous title to the lyrical audience asides that propel her play forward, Lynn Nottage finds joy in the sounds of words and the shimmer of fine-cut imagery."

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents Crumbs from the Table of Joy Thursday-Saturday, May 29-31 and June 5-7 and 12-14, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 1, 8, and 15, at 2 p.m. in the Kennedy Theatre in the BTI Center for Performing Arts, 2 South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $15 ($13 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel), except June 1 Pay-What-You-Can matinee. (NOTE 1: There will be an audio-described and sign-language-interpreted performance on May 31. NOTE 2: There will be a $75 fund-raiser on June 14 preceded by a gala reception with hors d'oeuvres and wine at 6:30 p.m. and followed by a moderated talkback session hosted by Raleigh psychiatrist Dr. Assad Meymandi and Raleigh News & Observer columnist Barry Saunders.) 919/388-0066 or burning_coal@ipass.net or http://www.burningcoal.org/Crumbs.htm. http://www.burningcoal.org/CrumbsPage.htm.