by Dick Kerekes and Leisla Sansom
The World Premiere of the latest play by National Radio Host and playwright Al Letson, Crumbs is being presented on stage at Players by the Sea. The performances continue at 106 Sixth Street in Jacksonville Beach on November 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, and 21 at 8 p.m. On November 15, there is a 2 pm matinee. Call 249-0289 for reservations.
Letson is well known in the Jacksonville area for his acting, his performances as a poet, and his skills as a playwright. Players allows actors to write their own bios for the program, and Letson modestly did not list the titles of his plays, the most successful of which debuted at Players as well. Julius X is a remarkable work that hopefully will be published and receive the national attention it deserves.
Crumbs concerns an episode in Letson’s interesting life, and he stars as himself, in what is described in the program as a “one man comedy with a cast of eight.” In an opening monologue that serves as a prologue, Letson explains that the work is only possibly a true story, implying that he may have exercised some artistic freedom in shaping and writing the story to achieve the intended meaning.
At the point in his life when the story starts, Letson has had a number of jobs. What he really wanted was to be an actor, and to write poetry and plays, but as any actor knows, the road to success is very bumpy and uncertain regardless of talent. He is working as a telemarketer for a national luggage company, but really hates the job because of the pressure to sell, sell, and sell to everyone and anyone regardless of their financial condition.
Letson leaves this job, and is desperate to find work. He explains to the audience that he loves and lives with his girlfriend Jenny (well played by Kasi Walters). Being an African-American, he has some concerns about her safety working outside the home, since she is white, and subject to possible harassment because of their relationship. Therefore, he supports her and her three children, one his, the other two hers from a previous relationship.
A fast-talking owner of a detective agency, Kevin (Damon Clark), offers him a job as a mole in a bread factory at $700 per week. Not bad for sweeping up breadcrumbs. The company owner, Mr. Crenshaw (Jon Fine), suspects a senior staff member is gay and is coercing other employees to engage in sexual activities in exchange for favored treatment and job security, and he wants enough evidence to terminate said employee.
This is not exactly Letson’s picture of creativity but money is money and he needs it badly. He sweeps up crumbs at the plant all day long, hence the title of the play. He also meets an interesting set of co-workers. Davetta (Christina May) a young, attractive, single and unattached female takes a shine to Letson, not knowing of his domestic arrangements with Jenny. Derrick (Steve Anderson Jr.) is a troublemaker, who constantly taunts Letson, eventually leading to a fight that again changes the course of Letson’s travels in life.
Robbie (Jonathan Ross) is also a relatively new employee, pushing a broom along with the cleanup crew, and he becomes a friend, although he has his own personal cross to bear. Lonnie (David Girard) is a company old-timer who takes Letson under his wing and offers advice on how to achieve long-term steady employment. Eugene Lindsey Jr. is the Reverend Jerome Randall, the senior member of the crew with many, many years of service going back to the original owner. He knows the ropes and is protective of the workers.
This is as far as I will take you in the plot, other than to tell you Letson at this point has been on the job for two months, and is under pressure to produce the results he is being so well paid for. Is he successful? What personal conflicts give him pause to really consider what he is doing and why?
Barbara Colaciello Williams directed and also designed the set. She and Letson have worked together for eight years and she was initially his acting coach. She describes this as a morality tale, and in the program she describes the creative process of this play. After the casting, Letson was still refining the show, and adding and subtracting lines. The cast is excellent, with members each portraying the unique qualities of their individual roles.
The set was dramatic, with a white floor and white furniture, and two sets of movable stairs, which were used from time to time for commentary by case members speaking in unison as a Greek chorus. Costume design, by Lee Hamby, was largely restricted to a neutral palette. Lighting design, by Joe Schwartz, heightened the action.
Al Letson is such a joy to watch on stage. He has the uncanny ability to connect with audiences, and it is a quality I have seen in his other performances over and over. He has an engaging sense of humor and great sensitively to what is going on around him. (He describes the sound of the machines and you can almost hear them.)
When theatre critics see a new play, it is just natural that we contemplate what future the work may have. Could it be published and find appeal with other groups throughout the country? In this case, we feel that Letson may have the same obstacles in distribution that Gene Nordan has with his creation, The Piano Bar, that also debuted at Players. Each show is so much built around the personally of the creator who also stars in the leading role, that just reading it on paper may not convince other groups to consider a production.
The production was very entertaining, well acted and well staged. I think it is still a work in progress, and would like to see the ending done a bit differently. It did not leave the audience, in our opinion, very satisfied, but if that is the way it happened, that is the way it happened. Let me remind you, that as Letson said in the beginning “it is possibly a true story” which left room for some doubt in the audience.
Crumbs is highly recommended as a refreshing, original, and unique theatre adventure. Don’t miss it.
CRUMBS: a possibly true story
by Dick Kerekes and Leisla Sansom