BWW Review: THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING at 1st Stage
Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding, is about as intimate a story as they come. The novel, as well as her play adaptation, centers around several steamy post-World War II Southern days as seen through the eyes of twelve-year-old Frankie Addams. Frankie, or F. Jasmine as she requests we call her, is on the cusp...of what she does not know, but in the way of preteen girls, she feels a sense of detachment from the world, a restlessness, and yet she yearns to better understand the complicated adult world spinning around her. McCuller's novel is beautiful, dark, ethereal and still painfully real. The play adaption, however, struggles to find its balance between that darkness and a superficial coming-of-age story.
The heart of both the novel and the play is the "family" of Frankie, her six-year-old cousin John Henry West, and their housekeeper, Berenice. Interestingly, where the novel centers Frankie's narrative, the play gives more weight to Berenice, played warmly and wonderfully here by Deidra LaWan Starnes. As Frankie, Zoe Walpole dances along the line of someone feeling the pull of their roots while struggling to test their wings. The two share an easy camaraderie and the push-pull of their circumstantial mother-daughter like relationship rings true. Stealing several scenes on the night of this review was William Carroccio as John Henry (alternately played by S. Gabriel Mackenna). With a precociousness that vacillates between amusing and annoying, his animated facial expressions prove that we adults actually hide nothing from the children in our lives.
Rounding out this strong ensemble are Rebecca Ballinger as Mrs. West; Michael Crowley as Mr. Addams; Caroline Dubberly as Janice; Dylan J. Fleming at T.T. Williams; Jonathan Helwig at Jarvis; and Jonathan Del Palmer as Honey Camden Brown. Under the fine direction of Cara Gabriel, each character is fleshed out in a way that the novel merely hints at and each actor brings a sense of the ambiguity of adulthood to their role.
Jonathan Dahm Robertson's set design is exquisite. A small kitchen anchors the action for much of the play and, thanks to Felysia Furnary's props design, we are fully immersed in mid-1940s Georgia. Jason Arnold's lighting and Neil McFadden's sound complete the effect, authentically transitioning us between scenes and evoking the chaos of a sudden thunderstorm. Debra Kim Sivigny's attention to detail in costume design is extraordinary. Frankie's wedding dress, Berenice's two pairs of shoes, and John Henry's glasses, all work together to bring their stories to a life beyond the spoken word.
Director Cara Gabriel / Lighting Design Jason Arnold / Dramaturgy Deb Crerie and Kay Rzasa / Props Design Felysia Furnary / Dialect Coach and Casting Director Jane Margulies Kalbfeld / Sound Design Neil McFadden / Set Design Jonathan Dahm Robertson / Costume Design Debra Kim Sivigny / Stage Manager Sarah Usary
The Member of the Wedding runs through June 2, 2019, at 1st Stage in Tysons Corner. Run time is approximately two hours with one intermission. Open captioned performances will run May 16 - 19, 2019. Post show community conversations will be held on May 18 and 19. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.1ststagetysons.org.