Scene from “Crumbs from the Table of Joy” (l-r): Malika Samuel, Shanel Bailey, Natalia Payne, and Jason Credit: Julieta Cervantes photo

This was the first time I have experienced “Crumbs from the Table of Joy” and it was a memorable event. It is Lynn Nottage’s first professional work and is evidence of the brilliance and depth of her storytelling ability. 

I love the way that Nottage can always take a subject in Black life and bring it to life with a storyline that grabs your attention and shows the humanity of us all and the vulnerability, complexity, and different levels of the human experience, whether of a widower, two daughters who have lost their mother, or a sister who loved her late sister and has vowed to raise her two nieces, which means moving in with the family when they come to Brooklyn in 1950 from the South.

In “Crumbs from the Table of Joy,” I love how Nottage made the older daughter Ernestine Crump the narrator, with a lot to say and a lot of observations to share. This play helps us understand how the death of one person can so devastate the family that is left behind; how, in their depression and desperation, they can fall victim to fake preachers who promise them a blessed life. 

Ernestine is a high school student who is very pained by the suffering of her father after her mother’s death. She talks about what her mother’s death signified in their life and the life of her father. She says that when they came to New York, it was difficult to fit in; that she experienced a great deal of racism and couldn’t find one friend at school. 

Her younger sister Ermina is also trying to  navigate the world without their mother. Their father Godfrey is very gullible, with a lot of old-fashioned ideas. That is a great contrast with their Aunt Lily, who is a communist and portrays herself as a revolutionary. She talks of wanting to uplift Black women and the importance of the Black woman’s voice, while Godfrey is confused about different parts of his life and looks for answers in strange places. 

“Crumbs From The Table of Joy” is a theatrical feast, with serious subject matter like death, racism, and interracial relationships, but also joyous moments and moments of levity.

The cast brings their A-game. Shanel Bailey is marvelous as Ernestine. You feel the intensity of her performance from her first words on the stage. She has a captivating approach to the role that will leave you enthralled. 

Jason Bowen is memorable as Godfrey. You experience his sadness, confusion, and desperate need for life direction. 

Malika Samuel is delightful as Ermina. 

Sharina Martin is hilarious and poignant in the role of Lily. She brings the feistiness and conviction of a woman who has had enough of not being heard and respected. She is also a woman who brings a lot of passion and tension to the role. 

Natalia Payne plays Gerte, a character who is a misfit in Brooklyn, New York, and finds herself in a situation that she was not truly ready for. 

It’s amazing how Nottage’s first professional work looked at a subject that again brought up the racism that Blacks faced, especially if they dared to love a white person.

This fantastic Keen Company production is playing at Theatre Row (410 W 42nd Street) and has tantalizing direction by Colette Robert.

I think anyone who has seen a Nottage play will agree that this lady is a special storyteller. Anytime that you hear that one of her plays is being mounted, you need to rush to the table to make sure you “hear” every crumb (please don’t mind the pun). 

The play runs only through April 1.

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