One of the many striking things about Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding is the lack of drama — in the usual sense of the word. McCullers, who was in her early 30s when she adapted her novel into a play, said Member "had to be beautifully done or there was no point doing it. For like a poem, there was not much excuse for it otherwise." The work is gripping and poignant, without fights, feuds or outbursts of conflict.
The play takes place in the kitchen of Mr. Addams (Richard K. Smith), a widower who doesn't devote much attention to his daughter Frankie. His days are consumed by his jewelry store, and he depends on housekeeper Berenice Sadie Brown to mind Frankie, which Berenice does with genuine warmth and humor, despite the disturbing racial injustices of their small Southern town circa 1945.
Director Janet Spencer entrusted this emotionally challenging scenario to a talented cast. Carol Sutton deftly brings Berenice to life without sentimentalizing her. Greta Zehner plays her charge, the lonely 12-year-old Frankie. Frankie's 6-year-old cousin John Henry West (Thomas Hellmers) is the third person at the play's core.
Frankie is a delicate, imaginative tomboy suffering the alienation of not belonging to social groups or having strong family relationhips. Her mother died the day she was born and her father is distant. She is so desperate to connect with something she sets out to be a member of not just her older brother's wedding but also the couple's life together.
"Frankie, you remember how Noah admitted those creatures into the ark," Berenice cautions. "Two by two."
But the child is deaf to warnings. In her exuberance, she announces she has changed her name to F. Jasmine Addams and boasts she will soon be leaving with the honeymooners. Of course, this plan can only go so far. Frankie gets into the wedding couple's car and hangs on to the steering wheel until she's pried out like some kind of emotional parasite.
A large cast surrounds the intense trio struggling for stability at the center. It's an excellent production marked by inspired performances.
Directed by Janet Spencer
Starring Carol Sutton, Greta Zehner and Thomas Hellmers
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., March 20-21; 3 p.m. Sun., March 22; through March 29
Anthony Bean Community Theater, 1333 S. Carrollton Ave., 862-7529