San Diego, CA---Jada Temple is a senior at San Diego’s School of Creative and Performing Arts and attends as a theatre/musical major. She is also the narrator of Lynn Nottage’s “Crumbs from the Table of Joy”, where nothing is all black and nothing is all white, and yet it is. “Crumbs”, directed with love by founding mother Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, is currently in a solid production at Moxie Theatre at Rolando through March 2nd.
Seventeen-year old Ernestine Crump (Temple) and her sister Ermina (Deja Fields also a student at SCPA) are with their father, Godfrey (Vimel Sephus) heading north to Brooklyn from Florida after the death of their mother. “Death has nearly crippled my father slipping beneath the soles of his feet and taking away his ability to walk”, states, Ernestine to the audience. “Death has brought us to Brooklyn in a basement apartment, kind of romantic, like a Parisian artist’s hat”.
The sisters are left to their own resources, more or less, except when being reined in by their father as he tries to instill in them the teachings of his now mentor, Father Devine, a real life evangelist who founded the Peace Mission, and whose photo has a prominent spot on the wall in their Brooklyn apartment next to a variety of movie posters. The girls love the movies.
Every morning Godfrey tips his hat to Father Devine before leaving for work at the bakery. The same Father Devine, who in a letter to Godfrey decided that Ernestine must now be called Darling Angel and Devout Mary for Ermina. ‘Father’ also encourages Virtue, Victory and Virginity.
For the young girls, this is something they mock by imagining a big V on the aprons of their dresses. Needless to say Father Devine allows no radio on Sunday much to the chagrin of the girls who bemoan the fact that they can’t listen to Amos and Andy. He does, however, accept any and all cash gifts. According to Ernestine, Father Devine “stands between us and our enjoyment”.
Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg doing what she does best in Lynn Nottage’s memory play, brings to life the struggles, joys, frustrations, fears and realities of this young African American family, minus mom, who after moving to New York to find a better way of life, are confronted with a different set or rules but the same prejudices in a much larger setting.
Nottage’s multi layered plot revolves around the ebbs and flow of the Crump’s as they try to fit into their new surroundings, come to grips with their own prejudices as well as those they encounter on the streets, keep their faith and continue to grow as a family.
Keeping his two his two teen-aged daughters from the grips of temptations found in the North, Godfrey Crump (Vimel Sephus) faces challenges he never knew existed. While he is oblivious to what is actually going on around him, (he is under the spell of Father Devine who advocates abstinence and celibacy), his oldest daughter Ernestine (the very talented Jada Temple) comes of age.
And so it is through her eyes that we see the world both as it is and how she wished it to be. When her aunt Lily comes on the scene, well, lets just say that a new perspective in the Crump apartment changed significantly.
Lily (Cashae Monya) a woman well ahead of time in her fight for racial equality, a firm believer and follower of the communist movement, and not afraid to slug one back, has more of an influence on the younger sister Ermina than on Ernestine, whose goal is to graduate high school.
The new stepmother Gerte (Jennifer Eve Thorn), a white German woman who might never fit into the family dynamics but does her hardest to try is all but thwarted by Lily who believes that Godfrey should belong to her. Her sabotaging is contagious and both girls treat her like she has the plague. But after what might have been ‘giving into the flesh’ moment, Godfrey takes off and leaves the four women to fend for themselves for three days, isolating Gerte even more.
Jennifer Eve Thorn is perfect foil here, patient, enduring and persistent even in the face of adversity. But when she breaks out in Marlena Dietrich’s “Falling in Love Again” she comes to life; but alas, it’s another one of Ernestine’s fantasies.
The playwright, no stranger to either San Diego audiences or Sonnenberg, has seen the staging of three of her other plays, “Intimate Apparel”, “Ruined” and “Las Meninas” mounted here. Many moons ago as a student in New York Sonnenberg worked as production stage manager on ‘Crumbs’ world premiere production at NYC’s Second Stage. That was in 1995.
While the play takes place in 1950 the issues of segregation continue to remain in place, not as overtly but covertly and subtle, something that firebrand aunt Lily would never have allowed without a push back. Cashae Monya just about upends the entire Crump family unit and she does it with expertise; a sashay here, a flirtatious glance there, a swig of whiskey and a cigarette, a sly look and an I don’t give a damn attitude that keeps us wanting more even when she’s standing still, which isn’t often.
Vimel Sephus, who was so wonderful in Ion’s production of “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” does a one hundred and eighty degree turn around from his flamboyant boxer role to a stoic, heartsick and bereaved husband with two teenaged daughters on the thresh hold of womanhood and what to do with them. His dedication to Father Devine (he even marries a white woman as did Devine) has him jotting notes and questions to him on small pieces of paper hoping one day all will be answered.
Downtrodden with so much on his mind to worry about, Sephus’ Godfrey still shows some pride and joy when he manages to pull from his pockets, crumbs and cookies from his days work at the bakery. On the other hand he finally gets the racial implications when he and his now white wife are refused entrance to the local movie theatre and let’s a sampling of his pent up anger show through.
And what to say about two young women not yet old enough to vote who can turn the theatre community upside down as the two sisters who venture out into the world, each heading in different directions, yet both honing in on their individual skills to portray three dimensional characters and making them real.
Deja Fields is just contrary enough to give her character Ermine the right amount of spunk to tell it like it is. She’s feisty and street smart, learning the language of the city (scat cat, hip, jive, cool baby, dip dive, far out sweet daddy, hang tight, dig this) as Ernestine calls it.
Jada Temple’s Ernestine, narrator of our story, will go on to be the first Crump to graduate high school and to do wonderful things. When she comes out in her white graduation dress, (Jennifer Brawn Getting’s), the one she made from a pattern, her from ear to ear smile saying I’m ready for the next chapter in my life, we know it’s not the stuff of movies, but her reality. That reality will carry her to into the next phase of her life a smarter and wiser woman. Both Jada and Deja deserve kudos for jobs done and to perfection.We'll keep our eyes open for great things to come.
Tom Nottage designed the basement apartment with movie posters covering the back brick wall of the Crump apartment indicative of the girl’s romantic fascination with Hollywood's Golden Era of movies and its stars. Melanie Chen’s sound design with noises from the upstairs apartment TV set blaring to Ross Glanc’s lighting design, “Crumbs from the Table of Joy” is Nottage’s commentary on a slice of life in the Crump family and their desire to break the bonds of segregation and repression and to equal the playing field one little step at a time.
Hats off to Moxie Theatre and the Moxie Team. Job well done.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 2nd.
Organization: Moxie Theatre
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 6663 El Cajon Blvd.
Ticket Prices: $20.00-$27.00
Venue: Theatre at Rolando