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Arts and Entertainment Tuesday, Jun. 11, 2019 2 months ago

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe reading will honor black playwrights

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WBTT joins theaters across the country in Project1VOICE to honor the voice of African-American playwrights through 'Crumbs from the Table of Joy.'
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

Lynn Nottage’s “Crumbs from the Table of Joy” is a vivid slice of life from the black experience. Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe will bring it to life June 17 — and  WBTT won’t be alone. Scores of African American theater troupes will be performing it on the same day across the nation as part of Project1VOICE, an annual celebration of black playwrights. It’s designed to make their voices heard. Literally.

The playwright’s voice is the main event. The coordinated performances are unstaged readings, stripped of distractions. No sets, no costumes, no blocking, no music, no sound design. No bells and whistles at all, in fact. Just actors on stage reading the script. Just the words, period.

At WBTT, this year’s cast includes Syreeta Banks, Amber Myers, Kathryn Parks and Jai Shanae. Michael Kinsey will reprise his acclaimed portrayal of Godfrey from the recent Freefall Theatre production. Travis Ray will be directing. Based on our recent conversation, he’s psyched.

As an actor, Ray has appeared in several WBTT productions, including a memorable role in the 2016 Project1VOICE reading of George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum.” Backstage, he’s also WBTT’s associate managing director. But the art of the stage is his first love. Directing a play is just icing on the cake, especially in a reading setting.

“I think it’s a magical experience,” he said. “It’s kind of like being a great magician revealing how he does his tricks. When the actors speak the stage directions, you’re letting the audience in on the secret of the creative process. They can’t help but imagine how they would do it. They stage the play in their mind’s eye.”

Ray adds that “Crumbs” is perfect for Project1VOICE’s purpose.

“Nottage’s voice is so distinctive — and it’s so very different with every play,” he said. “She never repeats herself. You can see why she won the Pulitzer Prize — twice!”

He adds that Nottage is also an excellent storyteller.

Associate Managing Director Travis Ray will direct “Crumbs from the Table of Joy.” Courtesy photo

The story of “Crumbs” is only one example. It explores the odyssey of a Southern African American family in 1950. Godfrey Crump, the recently widowed patriarch, uproots his family to join the crusade of the real-life Father Divine in Brooklyn. His two daughters are self-conscious country teenagers, coping with the mockery of city kids. Godfrey struggles to control them — and to control his desire for two different women as well. 

In a nod to Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” the seed of Nottage’s play was a line in a poem by Langston Hughes:

“Sometimes, a crumb falls / From the tables of joy.”

“It’s amazing to think the whole story grew from that tiny seed in the playwright’s mind,” Ray says. “As a man of color, I love experiencing a story about a family that looks like my family — a story that could happen in my city or my neighborhood or my barbershop. I can definitely relate to the story she created.”

“Crumbs from the Table of Joy” speaks to a specific culture, place and time, Ray said. But it also speaks to everyone.

“That’s the beauty of Lynn Nottage’s imagination as a playwright,” he said. “I can’t explain how she does it. But her work is a gift to all who encounter it.”

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