Beck’s ‘The Member of the Wedding’ is a coming of age of America experience
The last weekend in August, 1945 was a pivotal time in American history. The first atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan at the beginning of the month with the six years of World War II to end in just a week. This is the setting for Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding now on stage in the Beck Center for the Arts Studio Theatre. The show is directed by Eric Schmiedl.
In a small Southern town Jarvis Addams (David C. Dolansky) has returned home from serving in Alaska in order to get married to his childhood sweetheart, Janice (Madelyn Voltz). Problems arise when his twelve year old tomboy sister, Frankie realizes that she has no social connection with her family or anyone else in town for that matter.
Her mother died at childbirth so she has been raised along with her cousin John Henry West (Chase Oberhous) by Berenice Sadie Brown (Lisa Louise Langford*) the family’s black cook/housekeeper/nanny. Berenice does not shield the children from the world talking to them as adults about her past husbands and life in general.
Berenice also has her own life outside the house that includes a low key courtship with T. T. Williams (Peter Lawson Jones*) who is every part a gentleman. Williams hangs around with his jazz trumpet playing and gage (marijuana) smoking friend Honey Camden Brown (Corin B. Self) whose hot headed nature is extremely problematic in this racially divided town which has begrudgingly given unprecedented advantages to blacks while a majority of the town’s white males are overseas.
*Appears courtesy of Actors Equity Association
Frankie’s father is the town’s jewelry store owner, Royal Addams (Fred Gloor) who cares deeply for his daughter but is totally unequipped emotionally to deal with his daughter’s change from tomboy to womanhood.
Thus we have a friendless woman trapped in a girl’s body who is refused entry in the local young lady’s club and is forced to spend her days with a six year old cousin and black nanny while being virtually invisible to her own father. Frankie soon decides to romanticize about the upcoming wedding of Jarvis and Janice telling Berenice that “They are the we of me.” She plans to go with the couple on their upcoming honeymoon in spite of everyone telling her no.
Scenic designer Walter Boswell has done an exemplary job of creating an amazingly detailed set in the small 100 seat studio theater. The authentic 1940’s kitchen is equipped with all the accouterments including an ice box, gas stove, hanging light, kitchen sink and counter, table and chairs, radio, back porch, grape arbor, and back yard as well as loads of true to the period props. Arrive early so that you can take time to fully appreciate the effort put into the stage set. With the play happening during different times of the day it is vital that the lighting reflect these changes. Lighting designer Adam Ditzel is more than up to the task.
As for the actors, they are for the most part terrific. It is truly remarkable when you see young children being able to memorize page after page of complex dialogue. Both Ellie Ritterbusch and Chase Oberhaus are to be commended for their efforts. The problem lies in their not being able to project their voices as well as the adults thus forcing some of the audience members to cup their hands at their ears in order to pick up the lines. Perhaps mic-ing the children would have helped or better positioning by the director.. Lisa Louise Langford is superb as Berenice, a woman in the middle of two diverse worlds trying her best to keep the peace. Fred Gloor carefully underplays the role of Frankie’s father with great effect.
David C. Dolansky makes full use of his limited stage time to give a very convincing performance along with his stage fiance and later wife Madelyn Voltz as Janice who has a touching scene with Frankie. Peter Lawson Jones is perfectly cast as T. T. Williams who tries to keep a lid on Honey Camden Brown’s emotion, finely portrayed by Corin B. Self.
This is one of those “onion” plays that when the various layers are peeled away they reveal a fascinating slice of history. While primarily concerning a young woman’s awakening it also hints at the first stirrings of the civil rights movement. Well worth the investment of time to see this fascinating show.
The Member of the Wedding runs through November 3, 2019 in the Beck Center for the Arts Studio Theatre, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, Ohio. For tickets and information visit www.beckcenter.org or call (216) 521-2540