BWW Review: RACISM, THE 1950'S,AND STRONG LIFE LESSONS ARE THE ROOT OF LYNNE NOTTAGE'S POWERFUL CRUMBS FROM THE TABLE OF JOY. at FreeFall Theatre
The setting strikes a chord with the audience upon entering the space. Hardwood floors, a simple flat set to the backdrop of the Brooklyn Skyline. The time is the 1950's the season, fall. Five actors/actresses tell the plight of this family in a struggling neighborhood in Brooklyn, and the events that envelope them truly show the heart, and passion inside each and every one of its' centralized characters. Inside the program, a poem written by Langston Hughes,
"Sometimes a crumb falls,
From the tables of joy
Sometimes a bone
To some people
Love is given,
For the next two hours the audience is set back in time where Racism, family values, and true Christian Morals are tested. Nottage's characters are tested through unexpected circumstances and changes, much like people in our country are still facing today. It's the lasting effects of these events, that truly test the will of our character, and thus we find out who we truly are.
The set design was remarkable and truly made the audience feel right at home in this simple Brooklyn flat. The use of projections on the walls not only referenced the time period in which the events took place, but also gave reference to many events throughout history. Having these projections was a great addition to the set design and added an engaging element that pulled everything together. In the 1950's Racism is at an all-time high, we meet Ernestine Crump played with such candor and gumption by the stunning Alicia Thomas. Reminiscent of jarring performances that could be compared to that of Amandala Stenberg's Starr Carter in the recent film The Hate You Give. An unforgettable and gut-punching performance that was so raw, and so grounded that I soon will not forget, and I see the same fire in this actress' portrayal of our central character. Michael Kinsey's performance as the staunch, reticant, and God-fearing Godfrey Crump was strong in every intention from his first moment on stage. Forest Whitaker comes to mind when viewing this actor's plight. A performance so grounded and driven that I soon won't forget.
Every time Trenell Mooring graced the stage as Lilly Ann Green her character commanded the stage. Taking the stage and making it her own, her performance harkened performances of Taraji P. Henson in Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself, and even the unforgettable performance by Viola Davis in August Wilson's Fences. Rae Davis had side splitting one-liners, and unforgettable facial expressions, her Ermina Crump was boisterous and sharp as a tack, Tiffany Haddish in almost any comedy rang through in this actress' portrayal, and I kept wondering what she was going to do or say next. Rounding out the cast of five is the beautiful Emilee Dupre. She plays a white immigrant in a primarily African-American community with such grace and beauty. You can tell she knows she doesn't belong, but wants to do anything she can to keep the man she loves, and drop a few lessons along the way. Her Gerte Cump is reminiscent of Robin Wright, and she should be commended for the amazing work and wonderful performance.
Navigating through the two-hour plight in which the characters explore the deeper meanings behind Nottage's memory play is a tour-de force for any actor or actress. Jacqueline Thompson has a well-oiled machine with this company of actors/actresses and the seamless way the story plays out, is one of the strongest pieces of local theatre that I have seen to date.
Some things we as the audience learn when watching this beautiful piece, is the Crump's are of lower class stature the father works but comes home every day with a gift in his pocket for his girls. Later in the play we find out that the gift is cookies. Ernestine will be the first in the family to graduate from High School. Jim Crow is a practice alive and well within the country, and Godfrey really hits home when he says, "Segregation is creation to punish those in touch with God." Aunt Lilly is probably the first African-American lady to dress like a white-lady that the family has seen. Through her presence Ernestine and Ermina learn valuable lessons and often seen as street smarts from the Aunt. This is most prevalent when Ernestine says, "I confronted sin tonight, and it didn't seem that bad." The real struggle comes in when Gerte is introduced. Through and awkward family dinner we see the struggles of an African-American man, and a White-German immigrant being married in the 1950's. There is a cute musical moment in Act two that was choreographed by Emilee Dupree herself. One of the most standout moments of the act was when Lilly and Gerte are having a conversation in which Lilly says, "Do not lecture me on Race; you're the last person I look to for guidance."
Through death of a loved one, and a birth of another, this memory play about coming into the type of person you always knew you'd be is a sucker-punch and one I still felt hours after leaving the performance. The actors/actresses are strong in their plight, strong in their delivery and unforgettable. Freefall hit a home-run with this production and with such a strong chord to hit, especially at this time in our lives is almost a sobering welcome home and an open door to love, to live, and in all things embrace your family. For they may not dictate where your life will go, but they are just as much a part of you as the path you choose to lead. I think the Director's note sums it up entirely,"Find the love
Find the strength.
Find the Joy and keep walking...riffing...riffing...riffing.
Upward and Onward.
PHOTO CREDIT: freeFALL Theatre