Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Members Only

When I talked to Lisa at Richmond Marquee a couple of weeks ago she said that I liked to “stir the pot” as it were. Maybe the following is one of those times when I do so…or not. You never know with these things.

Anyway, I wrote up my review on “The Member of the Wedding” last night. When it shows up in Style next week you’ll notice that, while I generally enjoyed it, I also left the theater after the show with a nagging sense of wanting more. There were a few reasons for this. If you are familiar with Carson McCullers’ book, you know that there’s an interesting subplot involving a soldier that Frankie meets and later agrees to meet in a bar. It’s a highly charged subplot and I wondered why it was left on the cutting room floor when McCullers adapted her story for the stage. Just too racy for the general public?

Also, I had a feeling similar to one I had at “Austin’s Bridge” a few months ago. In that play, the most intriguing character to me was the resident facility’s “bad girl;” her story seemed much more interesting than many of the other ones that the play focused on.

In “Wedding,” I found myself fascinated by the African-American characters. It wasn’t that Frankie and her family were boring exactly, but the trio of Berenice, T.T., and Honey had the makings for a true pot-boiling plot. How did Berenice lose her eye?! Does T.T. know about her first true love and how does he feel about it? Why does Honey have such a chip on his shoulder? What exactly happens to him in prison and who is responsible? Not to be flippant about it but these seemed like much more compelling questions than ‘will Frankie make a new friend?’

There’s a question about race mixed up in all this, but it’s not a simple one. This was a play written decades ago so it doesn’t surprise me that the focus is on Frankie. And while there are many plays out there that feature African-American characters prominently, from what I’ve seen, they can be as “black-centric” in the same way that other plays are “white-centric.” I guess what frustrated me about “Wedding” is that it had many of the elements of a true multi-racial theater experience – Berenice is after all the main character – and with a little more of tilt toward the black characters, it could have really gotten there. Instead, the only real transition explored is Frankie’s (even John Henry’s heartbreaking transition is tossed off in last act comment). Couldn’t we have seen Berenice go through a transition? Sure, she is someplace different at the end of the play but we don’t see a whole lot about why or what exactly is happening for her.

Obviously, none of this is the fault of Barksdale’s production, which was top-notch within the limitations of the script. I particularly liked Brian Barker’s set design, which seemed to capture almost an entire house and its neighborhood within a three-quarter thrust stage’s limitations.

So that’s at least some of what I thought. What do you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought "Member of the Wedding" was a fairly weak opening show for Barksdale's current season. Having said that, here is my defense.

First, it is very long - I felt a lot of dialog should have been cut or reduced - while yes, Bernice is an interesting character, the performance was quite touching and exquisite, I found myself (as well as many others around me) squirming, waiting for "something" to happen, and to "get on with it." The 12 minute monologue in Act II, sitting at the kitchen table with very little movement, and nothing but back story works well in a book, but I found it to bring the show to a complete stop - and not in a good way. It was not until Act III that things finally started to move - action, conflict, etc. - we were finally getting somewhere, where something was "happening" - real, physical action and conflict that moves the plot along. I felt Act I and II were way too slow and there were many times I heard people saying things such as "Oh, come on, let's move it" behind me.

The other issue I had is that the secondary characters, such as Jarvis and his finance, you never get a chance to really know - why is Frankie so attached to them, and what is it about them that she loves so desperately, that she'll stop at nothing to go with them? I understood the need for her to fit in and "find her we", but the characters are only onstage for maybe 8 minutes the whole show, and you don't get enough time to know them, and their true connection to Frankie.

I thought Eric Evans' portrayal of John Henry was heartbreaking and honest, and I applaud him for fine work for such a young actor. I wanted to know more about his character, as well.

So, David - yes, I agree, that the African American characters were much more interesting and captivating - we wanted to know more, but we never got this chance. Perhaps the book (which I admit, I have not read) explains a lot more.

Again, I don't find fault so much with the direction (Scott, you're always terrific), but moreso with the construction of the play, and the story.

Hats off to the design team (as David said) - beautiful set; you almost felt like you were "right next door."