Theater

“The Member of the Wedding” falls flat

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“The Member of the Wedding” falls flat

The Member of the Wedding, based on Carson McCullers’ 1946 novel of the same name, gives us a brief peek into the life of a precocious preteen in the south in the mid-1940s. The novel is beloved, and the play has done quite well over the years – but for as wonderful as everything about this production is, the play itself fell flat for me.

Frankie Addams (Tavi Gevinson) is 12; her brother Jarvis (Tom Pecinka) has just returned home from the military with his fiancée and they’re to be married in a couple of days. Frankie is not quite a child, not quite a woman and quite friendless; she spends her days with her young cousin John Henry (Logan Schuyler Smith) and her housekeeper, Berenice (Roslyn Ruff). She is swept away by the romance of the upcoming wedding and becomes convinced the couple will take her away with them to live. Meanwhile, Berenice’s brother Honey (Will Cobbs) is unable to withstand the racism of the south; his outspoken nature worries Berenice.

This show is meticulously produced, directed and performed. Laura Jellinek’s scenic design is natural and beautiful: a garden stage right, a cutaway of the Addams’ family kitchen stage left, with the walls of the homes around them towering upstage (creating luscious shadows as people come and go in the yard.) Lighting design, by Isabella Byrd, is rich and evocative: the light changes gradually as the days pass; a storm had such realistic thunder and lightning I jumped in my seat. And Gaye Taylor Upchurch’s direction was perfection; this is a large cast, and there wasn’t a misstep, the stage pictures were beautiful and you can feel the warmth between the characters.

Ruff makes for a powerful Berenice; her interactions with the children are filled with such love and care. Her scene with Gevinson where she shares what happened with the one man she truly loved is so striking. Gevinson has taken this character and truly made her live and breathe on the stage – Frankie’s not an easy character to work with, so kudos for her on what must have been a difficult job.

The play itself seemed to be missing something to tip it over from good into great. None of the big action happened on stage – we heard about it in narration – so we lost the punch of that; there was an excellent storyline about how hard it was for Berenice, her boyfriend T.T. (Leon Addison Brown) and Honey to be black in the south, but it just didn’t go far enough; there was a strange mention of something that I had to look up online to find out what it even meant (it was something from the novel, but it was never explained in the play); there were hints of something bigger coming, but they never came to fruition. Other than the play (or could it have been a poor adaptation?) itself, fine work has been done here – it’s a shame there seems to be something lost within the script itself.

“The Member of the Wedding”; Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, MA; through August 19; $70; Run time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; 413-458-3253; http://wtfestival.org/

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