Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard, Suite N, Rolando
$20 - $40
In 1995, Crumbs was Lynn Nottage’s breakout play. She went on to write Intimate Apparel (2003) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined (2007).
Moxie Theatre’s fine production has breakout written all over it as well. Under Delicia Turner Sonnenberg’s outstanding direction, every cast member performs in new and expanded ways.
Maybe “breakout” isn’t the right word. Maybe the actors finally got the chance to do what’s been there all along.
Like Cashae Monya. In the last few years, she’s appeared in several shows: in supporting roles, with a major contribution to Moxie’s The Bluest Eye. The second she comes on stage in Crumbs, it’s ker-wham!!! She ignites it.
Monya excels as Lily Ann Green, sashaying, street-smart African-American fireball, known throughout Harlem for touting revolution and refusing to kowtow. Lily isn’t larger than life, but in Monya’s gifted, “breakout” performance, she’s about as large as life gets.
Monya’s just as expressive with Lily’s secret self. She’s come to the Crump’s basement apartment in Brooklyn to help her late sister’s husband, Godfrey, care for his daughters, Ernestine and Ermina. Lily dresses uptown to the max (fine costumes by Jennifer Brawn Gittings) but may be down on her luck — takes four bites to eat a sandwich — and needs the gig.
And she has more than eyes for Godfrey, emotionally rudderless since he moved the children north from Pensacola. Even though he “purged his life of passion,” after his wife died, Lily harbors hope.
Godfrey is a living ache. He’s all questions — presented in a burst of theatricality at Moxie — no answers. Vimel Sephus doesn’t break out as Godfrey. He breaks down another wall and once again shows his versatility as an actor.
Deja Fields and Jada Temple, as Ermina and Ernestine, break into the big time and fit right in. Fields is a Junior, and Temple a Senior at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts: the same ages as their characters.
Like Tom in The Glass Menagerie, Ernestine narrates Nottage’s memory play. She looks back on 1950 from the future. Every word, and the conflicts inside Ernestine, convinces.
For much of the first act, Crumbs has a simple opposition: Ernestine recalls her father and Lily, like good and evil angels, battling for her soul. It’s a simple, even facile opposition. Then Nottage shoots a diagonal across her canvas. Godfrey falls in love with Gerte, a German immigrant who’s no stranger to hardship (it’s bad enough she’s white, says one of the daughters, but “German too?”).
Another question-raiser: breakout or the chance to show a different side? Jennifer Eve Thorn wears no make-up, a boxy dress, hair a-frazzle and plays poor Gerte with all her heart. Even her awkward movements suggest a strange “other” amid a family labeled as same. And to offset them, Thorn occasionally flips into fantasy mode and shines like a movie icon.
These imaginative leaps jibe with one of the play’s themes. The French dramatist August Villiers de L’Isle-Adam was famous for having a character say, “Living? Our servants will do that for us.” Posters from movies deck the walls of Tim Nottage’s detailed set (posters in 1950; collector’s treasures today). And until Godfrey returns to life, his smothered daughters could say, living? Hollywood stars must do it for us.