SBCT Drama Charts Family Struggles

In 2009, playwright Lynn Nottage won the Pulitzer Prize for drama with her play “Ruined.” It was the latest in her theatrical portrayals of African Americans and, most especially, women. One of the most popular is her 2003 look at a turn of the century seamstress who created “Intimate Apparel” for society women but found her own life unraveling at the hands of a careless man. The beautiful South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Intimate Apparel” went all the way to national competition where  it took second place.

Crumbs From the Table of Joy at South Bend Civic TheatreNo wonder then, that SBCT elected to begin its 2010 Studio season with an earlier Nottage drama, 1995’s “Crumbs from the Table of Joy.” For whatever reason, the story of a widower and his two teen-age daughters who move from the South to the harsh reality of 1950 Brooklyn  lacks the emotional  impact of her later work. The quintet of actors handles the frequently repetitive text well and creates a solid ensemble under the direction of Deborah Girasek-Chudzynski. Some knowledge of the tenor of the times is helpful here. Segregation was still a noxious given. Father Divine, whose photo hangs in the living room much like that of the absent father in “The Glass Menagerie,” was a definite force among the black community in the 1940s and ‘50s and Godfrey Crump’s  blind devotion to the self-proclaimed “God” was not unusual. While his daughters struggle with their new and frequently hostile environment, Godfrey (the solid Quinton McMutuary)  constantly writes down questions for “Sweet Father” to answer and even renames his daughters at the recommendation of the Harlem preacher. Into this already tense household comes Lily Ann Green (Natalie Davis Miller), sister of the deceased mother, a smoking, drinking self-proclaimed communist. She obviously has an eye for the widower who, unfortunately, has none for her. In spite of this, she moves in.

Crumbs From the Table of Joy at South Bend Civic TheatreThe abrasive interaction is exacerbated by Godfrey’s return from an attempted flight with a new wife, Gerte Schulte (the marvelous Melissa Manier), who is white and German. The resulting upheaval takes its toll on Ernestine, 17 (Leslie Ann Boyden), who serves as frequent narrator, and Ermina, 15 (the delightfully spunky Laurisa LeSure), who is determined to go with the flow.  Ernestine has dreams of her own, enhanced by hours spent in the local movie theater, which do not include following her father into a dead end job in a local bakery. The epilogue, although not as M-G-M-ish as Ernestine dreams, nevertheless offers glimpses of hope for the determined young woman.

“Crumbs From the Table of Joy” plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the theater at 402  N. Main St. South Bend. For reservations call 234-1112 between noon and 6 p.m. weekdays or order online at www.sbct.org.

ECTeam creates Disney "Wonderland"

Following young Alice on her adventures in Wonderland has given millions of readers enjoyment since it left the pen of author Lewis Carroll in 1865.  Almost a century later, that enjoyment took on a fantastically colorful hue thanks to the late Walt Disney and his 1951 animated feature “Alice in Wonderland.”

Alice in Wonderland Jr. at Elkhart Civic TheatreThe stage version of the Disney cartoon, titled “Alice in Wonderland Jr.” is aimed as young  theater-goers but, as evidenced by the enthusiastic reception of the all-ages audience Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House, the Elkhart Civic Theatre ECTeam production lands squarely on the multi-generational funny bone. Presented by a LARGE cast (I stopped counting after 40) of  young performers, it blended music from the film (including “Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah,” a show-stopper from Disney’s ”Song of the South”) with delightful interpretations of the story’s memorable characters, inventive and bright costuming and an energy that literally bounded off the stage. Here, the Cheshire Cat is a triple play with ears, grin and tail handled by Ali Parr, Megan Auger and Celina Davis respectively, as is Alice. Jan Mecklenburg is “normal sized” Alice with Katie Norwood and Molly Hill as her Tall and Small incarnations. Jacqueline Kelley-Cogdell is appropriately frantic as the always-late White Rabbit with McKenna Kaczanowski and Riley Miller doing a turn (literally) as Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum . . . or is is Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle Dee?  No matter, they are delightful.

Alice in Wonderland Jr. at Elkhart Civic TheatreA befeathered Andrew Scott is the nautical Dodo,  and Mad Hatter Dan Murakowski declares 364 “un-buirthdays,” aided by his tea-drinking March Hare sidekick, Zachary Salisbury.  The flowers in the Golden Afternoon Garden must be Valley Girls, as their spangled interpreters (Leigh Van Ryn, Lauren Tilley, Morgan Jordan, Alana Todd and Michelle Jones, plus floral wannabe Carlie Manges as Poison Ivy) are right out of “Gossip Girl.” Zack Kovalenko has his “ups and downs” as the Doorknob and Michael Salisbury is the rapping Caterpillar  who sheds his inventive cocoon (loved the hula hoops!) for sparkling wings. Jill Springer doubles as Alice’s sister and the super-authoritarian Queen of Harts with Joel Lininger as her quaking consort. These were the “named” characters but equal credit must go to the several dozen “chorus” members who portrayed flowers, sea creatures, royal court members and cardsmen, boatmen and rock lobsters. They were on time and on key and added 100 percent to the success of the production (an additional performance is set for 3 p.m. today as all others are sold out). Behind the door to “Wonderland” are director/choreographer Steven Salisbury, assistant director Stephanie Salisbury and vocal director Mary Norwood, with John Jay Shoup designing set and lights and Dawn Blessing, costume designer.