The Clayton Community Theatre recently produced Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding, a play that ran for almost two years on Broadway in the middle of the twentieth century and made a star of young Julie Harris, who won an Oscar nomination for the film version and has had a long career has one of the leading actors of the American theatre and film.
For both stage and screen versions of The Member of the Wedding, Harris played 12-year-old tomboy Frankie Adams. Frankie is suffering the confusions of early adolescence, working to figure out who she is and what she is, what she wants to be and what she will be. She fits in nowhere now, chasing off the neighborhood girls whose club rejected her as she rejects them. Her mother died when she was born, her father is distant emotionally, and the family’s Black housekeeper, Berenice Sadie Brown, has become a maternal substitute. She, together with Frankie’s six-year-old cousin John Henry, who lives nearby and spends his time with Frankie and Berenice, form Frankie’s substitute family and club membership. (If the pair of Frankie and John Henry remind you of Scout and her cousin Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird, it may be because both boys are said to have been partly inspired by the authors’ friend Truman Capote.)
When Frankie’s older brother returns to their small Southern hometown from his World War II service in Alaska to marry his fiancee, Frankie is smitten by the pair and determined that the couple are “the ‘we’ of me,” that they are the threesome with whom she is destined to be her true self. With her experience of four failed marriages, Berenice tries to convince Frankie that she might not be welcome with her brother and his bride on their honeymoon. And when after the wedding Frankie shows up dressed for travel with suitcase in hand, her father takes the suitcase and prevents her from leaving. In a brief final scene, we see that as months pass, Frankie may be finding her real place in a relationship, or at least she is trying to.
Theo Kronemer made quite a convincing twelve-year-old Frankie. The strong-willed Frankie usually asserts herself with full lung power, and I sometimes wished that Kronemer and director Mark A. Neels had found ways to bring some variety into Frankie’s declarations, but that might have required a different script. Victoria E. Pines was warm and worn as Berenice, and comforted the youngsters in song with a splendid voice. Skyler Berkholtz gave John Henry true boyish qualities. Ellie Taylor and Jackson Gress made an attractive bride and groom. Frankie drove off her yard two of the neighborhood girls who had rejected her, played by Caitlin Souers and Madeline Gibson. T. T. Williams visited Berenice’s kitchen as her current beau. Mark Newton’s Honey Camden Brown, Berenice’s foster brother, has gotten himself into a confrontation with Southern justice. Director Neels played Frankie’s father, and Calvin Lescher had a closing walk-off role.
Andrew Cary designed the set with both the kitchen and the yard of Frankie’s house, though I never determined whether that dining table was in the kitchen or in the backyard. Jean Heckmann designed the costumes, right for period and characters. Nada Vaughn mastered the props, Nathan Schroeder designed the lights of course, and Gene Rauscher the sound.
I’m pleased that the Clayton Community Theatre chose The Member of the Wedding, not just for its historical value but because it is a play worth doing.
Photo by John Lamb