The title of Lynn Nottage’s early play announces its shameless ambition to warm your heart. Add in a movie-struck teenager, her shy sister, and her well-meaning but woefully repressive father, and “Crumbs from the Table of Joy” appears ready to mint its own money. Nottage has indeed assembled the elements of a thoroughly winning story: the members of the beleaguered Crump family, transplanted from Florida to Brooklyn in the 1950s, have their perspectives on religion, race, and the world shaken up when their bohemian and Communist Aunt Lily moves in. Unfortunately, all Nottage does is assemble the elements. Her writing is undeniably richly textured, but she allows her paeans to Harlem, bebop and Bette Davis to supplant actual action and character development, leaving us with a loosely related collection of incidents. Chuck Smith’s production at the Goodman wrings as much life as is to be had from the script: such vivid moments as when Lily (Ella Joyce), teenage Ernestine (Nambi E. Kelley) and German stepmother Gerte (Karen Janes Woditsch) gradually sync up their movements while dancing to the radio demonstrate that Nottage can create a striking image. And Kelley delivers a knockout performance as Ernestine, dreamy and studious, growing up torn by conflicting loyalties. But “Crumbs” teases the audience’s appetite without ever offering a fully satisfying drama. (John Beer)
This production is now closed.