Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Crumbs from Pensacola

Tonight I saw the first preview performance of Crumbs from the Table of Joy, a revival of an early Lynn Nottage play by the Keen Company.

The play takes place in the 1950s and follows a family that relocates from a small town in the South to Brooklyn to begin a new life. While I knew that in advance, I did not know that the town they left behind was Pensacola, Florida, where I spent much of my childhood.

I don't know that Nottage has any connections to Pensacola, or has even visited, but that didn't seem to matter, since the play contains few details about the place the family left, and it could very well have been from any number of Southern towns. The impetus for the move in the play was the father's conversion by a dodgy preacher, which certainly rings true for Pensacolans....

Jason Bowen plays the father, Godfrey Crump. (There's a Bowen family with deep roots in Pensacola, whose papers I studied while interning in the archives at the University of West Florida, but that's another story.) Bowen does an excellent job, particularly when sharing the stage with Sharina Martin, who plays his sister-in-law Lily. I anticipated sparks between those two characters, but I was not prepared for what would happen after Godfrey shares a memorable subway ride with a German woman named Gerte, played by Natalia Payne. This takes the play in a whole new direction in the second act.

The real focus of the story, though, is Godfrey's two girls, who after losing their mother and moving north to New York City struggle to find themselves, all while coming of age in post-war America. The point-of-view character is Ernestine, played admirably by Shanel Bailey. Ernestine narrates the story, occasionally breaking from reality to show the audience how she wished certain moments would have gone. Her younger sister Ermina is played by Malika Samuel, who adds a youthful vigor to the stage.

If you'd like to see the show yourself, you can use the code TRKWOM to get $40 tickets. (Don't worry--I'm sharing that with the permission of the producers, who included it in a program insert.) The show's playing on Theatre Row and deserves to be seen by more people.