Sunday, February 09, 2003

Crumbs From the Table of Joy (Cleveland Play House)

Crumbs won't fill you up at CPH

A review of ‘CRUMBS FROM THE TABLE OF JOY,’ as produced in another city, stated that the production’s “engagingly brisk pacing and energetic staging keep this consistently tense production from lapsing into too much negativity. While the subjects are tough, and the emotions run high, he [the director] has kept the relationships true, the battles broad, the surprises unexpected, and the resolutions encouraging.”

Unfortunately, the Cleveland Play House production of the play, as directed by Chuck Patterson, cannot make that claim. This is rather surprising as Patterson’s deft hand crafted last year CPH’S ‘AMEN CORNER’ to be one of the highlight productions of that season.

For some reason Patterson decided to stylize the production and give it a slow methodical pace. This decision emphasized the very talky nature of the script. It also made his actors often appear to be charactures rather than real people, losing the reality that would allow us to truly imagine the writing of the author who has been said to write like a cross between Tennessee Williams and Lorraine Hansberry.

‘CRUMBS FROM THE TABLE OF JOY’ tells the story of a widower who moves from rural Florida to Brooklyn with his two nearly grown daughters. It’s the 1950s and we learn about the complexity of the post Second World War years when Black life changed with the Civil rights movement, integration, and the presence of charismatic religious leaders such as Father Divine, who pioneered integrated worship. The tale is told through the eyes and voice of 17 year-old Ernestine.

Ayanna Silveris’s Ernestine lacks the emotional involvement to aid us to understand the depth of her feelings. Instead of moving swiftly between narrator and participant, she has been directed to be hesitant and pensive. Zinab Jah, portraying Ernestine’s sister Ermina is a delight. Terry Alexander is much to pensive as their father Godfrey. Vivian Reed, as their aunt, is both entertaining and properly pathetic. She clearly allows us to know the conflict that is going on within her, though, at times, she too is the victim of the stylized directing. Meg Kelly Schroeder has difficulty with the required German accent and stays on the surface of the role of the caucasian woman who marries Godfrey.

Scenic designer Felix Cochren has created a functional set which allows for easy movement and helps set the proper mood. Robin Heath has selected music that aids in our understanding of the era.

Capsule Judgement: The CPH production of ‘CRUMBS FROM THE TABLE OF JOY,’ leaves too much of the joy on the table.