BWW Review: THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING at Williamstown Theatre Festival Takes Berkshire Audiences On An Unexpected Journey
Can day-to-day human existence be "simple", as some would have you believe? Or do we, perhaps, work hard to make it appear that way? Williamstown Theatre Festival's revival of Carson McCullers' THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING takes audience members on a powerful journey that allows us to examine a seemingly simple life from the safety and comfort of its Mainstage.
The journey takes us to a small southern town, 1945. More precisely, to the kitchen and adjacent back yard of the Addams family on the eve of a wedding. The action plays out over a few days in late August and tells the story of 12-year-old tomboy Frankie. Frankie's mother died when she was born, and her father is distant. Her closest companions are the family's African American maid, Berenice Sadie Brown, and her six-year-old cousin, John Henry West. She is awkward, has no friends, and dreams of going away with her brother and his bride-to-be.
Her mother is gone, her father is pre-occupied, and older brother, Jarvis, is embarking on his new life with Janice. This leaves Berenice to serve as both Frankie's guide, and, metaphorically, ours as well. The journey explores the psychology of the three main characters as, like layers of a proverbial onion, the seemingly simple exteriors appropriate for, if not required by, southern gentility are peeled back before our eyes. On our leisurely stroll down a country lane, we encounter a few twists and turns in the form of WWII, bigotry, intolerance, and more, along the way. But, to paraphrase Williams College (whose facilities, in the summer months are WTF's home) Alum, Stephen Sondheim: what happens then, well that's the play and you wouldn't want us to give it away.
Tavi Gevinson's performance as Frankie captures the frenetic, angst ridden, and painful realities of childhood with such accuracy I found myself fighting the voice in my head as it tried to remind that I was watching a woman of 22, playing a 12-year old girl who is going on 35.
Roslyn Ruff's portrayal of Berenice is, in a word, powerful. Displaying both depth and range, Ms. Ruff seems to glide effortlessly through situations and emotions with poise, grace, warmth, and compassion as if she were an iceberg steadfastly gliding along on its predetermined and natural path regardless of what might cross it.
Logan Schuyler Smith presents a delightfully pure and innocent John Henry West with consistency that is commendable and worthy of a seasoned professional.
James Waterston demonstrates focus and discipline in presenting the multiple layers of Mr. Addams that show the complexity associated with being a Southern Gentlemen.
Strong performances from (in order of appearance) Tom Pecinka as Jarvis, Louisa Jacobson as Janice, Liv Rooth as Mrs. West, Vinnie Burrows as Sis Laura, Leon Addison Brown as T.T. Williams, Will Cobbs as Honey Camden Brown, Ben Ahlers as Barney MacKean, Delilah Napier as Helen Fletcher, and Sarah Haga as Doris; many of whom we see only very briefly, round out the cast and contribute to the overall power of this presentation.
An impressive set designed by Laura Jellinek provides a formidable space in which the events playout. THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING is the third and final Main Stage production of WTFs 2018 season and plays through August 19th.