Through Sun 11/3
Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding, now at the Beck Center, builds slowly, scene by scene, to give a true and tender glimpse of lives intersecting in a small southern town. Director Eric Schmiedl and an excellent cast make everything they do to bring us into their world seem simple and easy (it is not) as we slip into August 1945 and a welcome post-war era.
The set, designed by Walter Boswell, boasts an ice box refrigerator, a basic kitchen sink, and a stove (with oven) as well as a kitchen table — all suitable to the era. It’s the space where pre-teen Frances (Frankie) Addams (Ellie Ritterbusch) finds food and comfort. And yes, there’s a screened-in porch just off to the side, a necessity of life where the summers are long, hot and mosquito-filled.
Almost everyone ends up in that kitchen because that’s where Bernice Sadie Brown (Lisa Louise Langford), dispenses love and support. As the Southern family’s African-American housekeeper, Langford seems completely at ease, just the way Bernice herself would have been. Langford, recently seen in the Beck’s King Lear as Regan, Lear’s fire-breathing dragon daughter, plays an entirely different sort of woman, a woman whose wisdom, love and charity offers a refuge. It’s a challenge to show goodness, but Langford’s Bernice does so in an impressive performance.
As Frankie, the growing-up livewire little tomboy who hasn’t yet reconciled herself to being a girl, Ritterbusch is captivating. She makes us see the chatterbox who shares every thought that comes into her mind, the energetic and (yes) bossy preteen, and the little girl who misses the mother who died giving birth to her.
As John Henry West, Frankie’s one real friend, the six-year-old cousin she tells what to do, Chase Oberhaus is absolutely convincing. He’s the sort of likeable little kid that you don’t know how much you will miss until he’s gone.
Other cast members include David Dolansky, Baird Bracken, Fred Gloor, Peter Lawson Jones, Corin B. Self, Audrey McNulty, Audrey Morrison and Madelyn Voltz.
BOTTOM LINE: The Beck Center’s The Member of the Wedding presents a nuanced and finely-acted portrait of the struggles and joys of growing up. Maybe you don’t need a reminder of that time in your life, but maybe you do. If you let it, this tender show will win your heart.