Review of Wedding Band at The Black Rep

    The Black Rep’s current offering is Wedding Band, a profoundly moving outcry against intolerance and oppression by Alice Childress. Written in the 1960s, the play retains all its dramatic and emotional power in the outstanding Black Rep production.

    Subtitled A Love/Hate Story in Black and White, the play is set in South Carolina in 1918, after the onset of the influenza epidemic but before the armistice that ended World War I.

    The central character is Julia Augustine, a black woman has who been in a common-law marriage for 10 years with a white baker named Herman. They cannot marry because interracial marriage was against the law at that time in South Carolina.

    The law is not the only obstacle for Julia and Herman. Their relationship has put Herman at odds with his mother and sister, and Julia has had to flee from disapproving neighbors several times. She has just moved into a new home at the start of the play.

    As they celebrate their tenth anniversary together with a cake, Herman gives Julia money for a bus ticket to New York, where they can legally marry. He will remain behind and join her after he has repaid the $3,000 he borrowed from his mother to buy his bakery. Before this plan can move forward, however, Herman becomes ill with influenza.

    His treatment is delayed because others are less concerned about his health than their own welfare. Julia’s landlady fears the consequences if an interracial couple is found on her property. Herman’s sister, Annabelle, and mother, Thelma, are sent for, but Thelma, does not want Herman moved until after dark to keep his relationship with Julia from being revealed.

    The Black Rep production has a superb cast. Jacqueline Thompson embodies the full range of Julia’s emotions: the wear-and-tear of the indignities she suffers as a black woman, her private joy when she can express her love, and her outrage when she can no longer endure Thelma’s racism. Thompson and Kari Ely as Thelma bring staggering intensity to this confrontation.

    Thompson and Jeff Cummings as Herman also have a harrowing exchange. Cummings captures Herman’s decency, his love for Julia, the frailty brought on by his illness, and his recognition of limitations that cannot be overcome.

    All the characters are vividly portrayed. The excellent performers include:

    • Velma Austin as Julia’s landlady, Fanny
    • Tamara Thomas as Julia’s neighbor, Lula
    • Christian Kitchens as Lula’s adopted son, Nelson
    • Christina Yancy as Julia’s neighbor, Mattie
    • Vivian Helena Himes as Mattie’s 8-year-old daughter, Teeta
    • Lucy Miller as Princess, an 8-year-old white girl Mattie cares for
    • Isaiah Di Lorenzo as Bell Man, an exploitative white peddler
    • Ellie Schwetye as Annabelle

    Geovonday Jones’s direction shrewdly uses the performance space formed by Chris Cumberbatch’s impressive scenic design, which depicts the rear of three houses. The one in the center allows the audience to see into Julia’s bedroom The action takes place there or in the common backyard. An appropriate atmosphere for the play is created by Andre Harrington’s costume, Mikhail Lynn’s props, Kareem Deanes’s sound design, and Zak Metalsky’s lighting.

    Wedding Band continues through March 31 in the Berges Theatre at COCA, 6880 Washington Avenue in University City.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Keshon Campbell
    Julia (Jacqueline Thompson) holding the cake Herman (Jeff Cummings) baked for their tenth anniversary together in
    Wedding Band.

    Review of <em>Wedding Band</em> at The Black Rep