An open casting call leads to starring role

May 04, 2006|By JESSICA BRANDT | JESSICA BRANDT,SUN REPORTER

Amina Robinson didn't know what to expect when she drove down from Philadelphia to a recent open casting call at Center Stage. She probably wasn't expecting to be cast as a lead in the company's latest production, Crumbs From the Table of Joy.

"I can count the number of open calls that I've been to on one hand," she says. "But this was something I really wanted. I kind of set my mind on it and decided to go at it from all different angles."

It certainly paid off.

It's rare for an open call to land an actress a lead. But Robinson, coming off the national tours of Mamma Mia! and Little Shop of Horrors, wasn't sure she could make a closed audition.

"I had my husband drive me to Baltimore to the open call so that at least I could be seen by someone."

While there, she struck casting directors with her talent and ability.

"She has a wonderful combination of maturity as a performer and spontaneity and openness and innocence as an actor," says director David Schweizer.

"You can talk to her like a collaborator, but you can also count on the fact that after she's taken a note and comes back to you, it will come out really fresh. That's a rare combination that tends not to happen to even the most talented performers until they are a lot more experienced than Amina."

Schweizer continues, "She has a haunting combination of genuine openness and youthfulness and an old soul that is a gift to this part."

Written by Lynn Nottage, Crumbs From the Table of Joy tells the story of Crump sisters Ernestine and Ermina, who confront the confusion of adolescence and the dangers of race relations in the 1950s, when they move from the South to Brooklyn with their widowed father. Robinson won the role of Ernestine. The family, beset by loss, gets a much-needed jolt with the arrival of their free-spirited Aunt Lily and ultimately, a new, white, communist stepmother.

"The 1950s was a moment in American history in which I felt so much change," Nottage said about her inspiration for the piece in a news release.

"It was the beginning of the civil rights movement. Music was going through this explosion. You had bebop, rock 'n' roll - so much that was going on. Such a volatile and rich period. Yet everything I had seen was in black and white. And I wanted to make it colorful. So I started writing Crumbs From the Table of Joy."

Performances will also feature Patricia Ageheim as stepmother Gerte, Edwina Findley as Ermina, LeLand Gantt as patriarch Godfrey, and Kelly Taffe as Aunt Lilly Ann Green.

"Crumbs From the Table of Joy," which will conclude Center Stage's 43rd season, opens Wednesday and runs through June 11. Center Stage is at 700 N. Calvert St. Preview performances are also available. Showtimes vary. Tickets, $10-$60, can be purchased at centerstage.org or 410-332-0033.

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