We are in Brooklyn, 1950. A simple apartment sprawls across the stage. An easy swing band tune toots in the background, the wah-wah of a muted trumpet filling out the sound of the space. The kitchen has that slick linoleum tile and clangy metal appliances, leading into the front living room area. There’s an old-fashioned radio on the side table, like one you might see in a Popeye or Betty Boop cartoon. A subtle spotlight glows a portrait of a religious zealot, Father Divine, the patron saint of the Crump household. The home also has no walls, the absence of which allows for the audience to see the gorgeous skyscape painted on the brick walls of the stage: bright blue horizons containing fluffy cumulus clouds. The absence of walls does not erase the plumbing however, pipes spindling up from the ground to the ceiling. Settle in, stay awhile, a life is about to start.
A Family With Aspirations
The Crumps are country folk originally, new to the city, and still in mourning for their mother. The stagnant existence they develop is soon blasted and shaken up by a visit from their Aunt Lily, a fiery Communist, and a later bride in an interracial marriage to boot. Lynn Nottage’s script shows a family struggling and fighting to find themselves in the wake of tragedy, race relations, and plain old hard times. The audience gets to see the Crumps change, adapt, fail to adapt, and move through so much in the two and a half hour run time, to the point that the Crump home starts to feel like your own, dysfunctional, but home all the same. Fans of Fences, The Piano Lesson, Raisin in the Sun, August Osage County, or any classic piece of theatre about a relatable family will likely find this similar sense of home at the Raven Theatre.
Fleeting Escapes and Harsh Realities
Just like Ernestine’s common visits to the movie theater to live a life beside her own, viewers of Crumbs from the Table of Joy are treated to several lovely breaks from the otherwise natural realism. In one such symphony, Lily and Gerte start to samba and tango to music blaring from the radio, stepping in perfect time with each other all throughout the apartment. In one particular moment of passion, the couple involved flickers in the light like they’re performing on the silver screen, courtesy of lighting designer Kathy A. Perkins, who also bathes the skyscape walls in violets and reds. These moments of whimsy are contrasted however by touches that accentuate the family’s state of living. Dust flies out in a cloud from the armchair as he pats it clean. Ernestine’s graduation dress is painstakingly put together throughout the show, and the progress is clearly marked by prop designer Mealah Heidenreich and costume designer Christine Pascual.
Raven Theatre Pleases with Precision
As soon as the play starts, Chanell Bell’s Ernestine starts her careful and detailed narration of her story, the throughline of the entire piece. She mentions her father’s grief, and Terrence Sims’s Godfrey moans out in pure agony over his dead wife, only moments into the show. Later, Brandi Jiminez Lee’s Ermina performs a full scat number around a park bench, outshined only perhaps by Emily Tate’s Gerte’s impromptu 11 o’clock number at a church dinner. For this audience member, Brianna Buckley’s Lily was an absolute powerhouse, portraying every bit of the inspiring and lively revolutionist that Ernestine idolizes her for. Godfrey was the foil to this passion, a tragically trapped man, bound by his devotion to the only guardian he has from his grief, a complexity that Sims creates soulfully.
In this writer’s view, a show like Crumbs from the Table of Joy requires sharp shifts and large leaps of emotional time, which every actor in the production is quite rehearsed and ready for. Theatre quite often struggles to be polished without losing the raw nature of reality, and this production successfully achieves this dichotomy.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Brandi Jiminez Lee
Kathy A. Perkins
Cole von Glahn
Raven Theatre East Stage
6157 N. Clark St.
Thursday, October 11 – Sunday, November 18, 2018
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm.
All photos by Michael Brosilow.