By Heather Rosen
1st Stage Theatre’s production of “The Member of The Wedding” transports you to another time and place…a small Southern town in 1945. It’s not a comfortable time – segregation and racism rears its ugly head throughout the show, plaguing the family’s black cook, Berenice Sadie Brown, and her family. Also, none of the characters are happy, with the exception of Jarvis and Janice, the bridegroom and his fiancée, who are planning to leave town immediately after their wedding. If you are looking for entertainment to forget your troubles and give you renewed hope, this show might not be for you. But if you want to feel like you’ve gained a new understanding of what it might have been like for those who were not just going to cotillions and drinking mint juleps on the porch in 1940s, come see this show and take a journey to the past. And the sets, the sound, and lighting will help to transport you.
The set is divided into 2 parts: the outside – the verandah, and the inside - a kitchen with a door leading to an interior room. Both looked realistic - like they were sliced right out of an old house. But the lighting and the sound made the sets come to life. For example, even before the play opens, you hear locusts chirping in the trees, and the bright lights tell us that it’s hot outside. Later in the show, the sound of thunder, the flashes of light, and wind blowing the tree branches hanging from the ceiling make you think that we are caught in a thunderstorm, even though we don’t feel the rain.
The acting was phenomenal. Deidra LaWan Starnes’ portrayal of Berenice is every bit as sincere and nuanced as Octavia Spencer’s portrayal of Minnie Jackson in “The Help.” She fully embraces the character of Berenice, who is billed as the household cook; however, we learn that she is clearly a surrogate mother to 12 year old Frankie Addams, the bridegroom’s younger sister whose biological mother died in childbirth. Berenice is also very much like a mother to little John Henry, Frankie’s 6 year old cousin who seems to spend more time with her and Frankie than he does at home. William Carroccio did a great job in the role of John Henry, nailing all of his character’s many lines.
Zoe Walpole’s portrayal of 12 year old Frankie Addams was also very convincing, despite the fact that according to her bio, she is either currently attending or recently graduated from Georgetown University. Her Frankie was a Scarlett O’Hara lite - a white girl of privilege who is going through adolescent angst and insecurity and is prone to dramatic outbursts. Bored and without a friend her age to hang out with for the summer, she decides she wants to change her name and run away to Alaska with her brother and his new bride. In Frankie’s mind, her life is an absolute Greek tragedy, but in reality, the drama’s all in her head, in fact, she’s one of the few characters who is safe and secure. It’s everyone else who is suffering – her father, John Henry, the soldiers fighting in the war, and all of the black people in the town, including Berenice’s brother, Honey, who is done being treated like a second class citizen. Frankie seems oblivious to all of this.
The set does not change at all (only a few props are brought out) but somehow, the lighting, the sound and the wind effects make us feel like time is passing, and at the end of the play, I asked myself how much has really changed since 1945? Aren’t adolescent girls still prone to drama and thinking that their predicament is worse than everyone’s? If Frankie had used a more modern southern accent, I think a lot of parents with teenage girls would have seen their own daughters in her. And how much has society’s treatment of young black men changed, especially those who speak up when they feel wronged?
You will have some good conversations during the car ride home.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane and Ryan Maxwell Photography
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.