The 1950s were a time of change for the United States. Segregation and racism were growing issues; the Supreme Court in 1954 ruled that separate educational facilities for African-American children were “inherently unequal.” Communism was seen as a threat, and Malcolm X became a minister of the Nation of Islam in 1952. And the Baby Boom and increasing popularity of suburban living was changing America’s lifestyles.
The changes the decade wrought are at the heart of Lynn Nottage’s play Crumbs From the Table of Joy, presented by the Valentine Theatre in collaboration with Actors Collaborative Toledo for two weekends beginning Friday in the Valentine’s Studio A. Nottage won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for drama for her play Sweat.
In Crumbs from the Table of Joy, racism, civil rights, and social change are themes. Godfrey Crump, an African-American living in a small town in Florida, has lost his wife. He turns to a popular evangelist, Father Divine, to assuage his grief.
Godfrey decides to move his family from Florida to Brooklyn in search of a new life, and to be closer to Father Divine. For his daughters, Ernestine, 17, and Ermina, 15, the move is a big change, but bigger ones are coming.
“He took his family out of the life they knew, and imposed this new one on them at a pivotal point in their development “ said Elizabeth Cottle, who is co-directing the play with Jeremy Allen. “They are high school students figuring out what life means for them as all the social conflict goes on around them.”
In Brooklyn, they live in a basement flat in a white neighborhood. Their father brings home a new wife, a white German woman. “Their identity seems to become shaped by race,” Cottle said, adding it’s a coming-of-age tale for Ernestine, socially and politically.
The girls’ free-spirit Aunt Lily, their late mother’s sister, adds another layer of change to their lives. Lily, who embraces Communist sentiments, decides to move north to escape the racism of her Southern town. In Brooklyn she can be a civil activist, and she tries to pass this on to her nieces.
Ernestine is the more cerebral sister, a passive observer who absorbs ideas, while Ermina is more in line with Aunt Lily, more outgoing as she tries to find the language of the city. “The contrast is delightful throughout the show,” Cottle said.
The story is told through Ernestine’s eyes, said co-director Allen, and the characters are shaped through her memories.
“Echoing Ernestine, I would say that being true to yourself is probably the biggest thing in life,” and a big theme of the play. And seeing Godfrey struggle with who he is, is a hard thing. He’s caught between these two ideals of who he should be, as he comes to terms with being judged for being a black man while following the conservative Father Divine.
Aunt Lily is a reminder of where they all come from, Cottle said, “and Ernestine seems to connect with those memories.”
The Valentine’s cast features Melody Orlu, Ziyaan Nurruddin, Alan Owens, Crystal Adams, and Mackenzie Baumhower. All but Mackenzie are making their Valentine Theatre Studio A debuts.
Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday in Studio A, the Valentine’s black box theater with entrance and box office (open an hour before curtain) on Adams Street around the corner from the main entrance. Additional shows are at 8 p.m. June 8-9 and 2 p.m. June 10.
Tickets are $20 general admission and $10 for students with valid ID and can be purchased in advance at 419-242-2787 or valentinetheatre.com.
Dramatically Inspired Works and director Denisee Gaston will present Teenspiration Workshop, a day of learning about theater through sessions in acting, voice, music, writing, stage design, blocking, and more, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. June 16 at St. Mark Baptist Church, 2340 N. Holland Sylvania Rd. Breakfast and lunch will be provided. Advance registration is $15, same-day is $20.
Parents are asked to sign their child in and out and complete emergency information, but do not need to stay with the child during the workshop.
Teens who attend the workshop will have the opportunity to participate in Dramatically Inspired Works’ 2018 Production. To register go to dramaticallyinspiredworks.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 800-851-9908.
Contact Sue Brickey at: email@example.com.
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