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Family struggles of the 50s rehashed on stage

By Christina Casano
On February 24, 2014

Miami University's Department of Theater continues its season with a coming-of-age story, "Crumbs from the Table of Joy," opening tomorrow on the Gates-Abegglan stage.

The play tells the story of two sisters whose mother dies and whose father gets remarried to a German immigrant after their move to Brooklyn from Florida, according to director Paul K. Bryant-Jackson.

The characters include the sisters, Ernestine and Ermina Crump, their father Godfrey, their Communist aunt Lily and their father's new wife Gerte.

Jaime Coaker, a senior theater major, plays the younger daughter Ermina.

"Lots of outside factors that affect the family - racism, communism, World War II, death, sexuality. But to be clear, it's about the family and how we see the family dealing with all these things," Coaker said.

"Crumbs" is a memory play, drawing on the main character Ernestine's experiences and ability to recall her family, reflected in the set design by Mari Taylor, a senior theater major.

"I was trying to see how Ernestine would see it in her memory. It's skewed; memory is uneven. There are a lot of areas for her to step out, reflect on what happened, connect to the audience," Taylor said.

The function of the memory play is important to the way the story is told.

"It's about fragments, putting together a narrative from a distant point, trying to give meaning to a series of images," Jackson said. "It functions under the assumption that everyone involved has a meaningful experience, in that memories are ritualized."

The script is very difficult, Jackson said, because of the material it deals with and the emotional lives of the characters.

"It's a journey for all involved," Jackson said.

One of the most important aspects of the play is that it deals with the struggle of an African American family in the 1950s.

"I think it tells an important story of what it means of struggles that people had, which we seem to forget about," Jackson said. "It's about how people succeed, or don't succeed, and how they survive."

Coaker discussed her experience working on the show as an actor.

"It talks about things that no one wants to talk about. We understand with our brains how real [the struggle] is, so we should be afraid to jump, but we are scared," Coaker said.

The cast includes Miami alumnus Vonzell Carter playing the girls' father Godfrey.

"He's an inspiration to all of us. He's shared his gifts, brought to the part a beating heart making it both beautiful and painful and he's made this experience meaningful," Jackson said.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. from Feb. 26 to March 1, and at 2 p.m. March 1 and 2.

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