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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
By Macey Levin
Though there are myriad problems with the production now at Williamstown it has a major saving grace: Tavi Gevinson who plays Frankie Addams, the 12-year-old protagonist; yet, even she is inconsistent.
. Frankie's brother Jarvis is getting married in two days to Janice in a small unnamed southern town. Frankie has no friends her age, probably because of an antagonistic attitude toward everything and everyone in town. The exception is the Adams's Negro housekeeper Berenice Sadie Brown (Roslyn Ruff). Berenice is a maternal figure, Frankie's mother having died several years earlier, who tries to foster a moral and ethical view of life. Frankie's seven-year-old cousin John Henry West Logan Schuyler Smith), who lives next door, is oftentimes a lovable pest.
Since Jarvis (Tom Pecinka) and Janice (Louisa Jacobson) have told Frankie how much they love her, she decides to go with them after the wedding ceremony and the three of them will "live happily ever after." She knows they won't refuse her! Berenice tries to convince her of the unrealistic aspirations, but to no avail. As a sub-plot, there are moments when Jim Crow attitudes interrupt the basic story line; one scene in particular is jarring in that there has been no dramatic provision for it.
We may have been spoiled by Ethel Waters' bigger-than-life personality for her Berenice. Ms. Ruff has the warmth and gentility, but not the richness or the stage presence of her predecessor. The relationship between Berenice and Frankie is the heart of the play; though it is there in the physical relationship, the emotional ties are somewhat tenuous. In addition, Ms. Ruff, like most of the major characters, is often difficult to hear.Ms. Gevinson also runs into this problem, but not as severely as others.
Tavi Gevinson who's twenty-two years old plays the pre-adolescent Frankie with authority and control. She gives credibility to the hormonal contradictions soaring through her as she determines her place in life by misinterpreting the familial love by and for Jarvis. Her physical carriage retains some of the awkwardness that Frankie has yet to outgrow. Smith's John Henry is very energtic, but he is supposed to become ill as the weekend goes on: it doesn't happen here. This is more a directing problem than an actor's choice, especially for such a young talent.
The direction which has the actors often take long pauses to "think" about what has happened or has been said also results in a pacing problem. Southerners are supposed to be on the laconic side, but that does not mean the production should also be so. The kitchen where most of the action takes place, is quite small. Since Berenice works at the upstage sink and counter, Frankie and John Henry have to face her from a downstage table and other points which creates more projection problems.
Laura Jellinek's set is perplexing. She has given that kitchen only a third of the stage; the rest is occupied by a garden, an arbor (that extends offstage) and a bench – an expanse that is used a minimal amount of time. There is a huge backdrop made of wooden siding that towers over the working set, so large that one's eyes are often drawn to it rather than the action on the stage proper. Occasionally, huge shadows are cast on the wall, but the effect does not justify its massive structure.
Isabella Byrd's atmospheric lighting helps to keep the focus on the kitchen limiting the physical distraction of the set. The costumes designed by Clint Ramos are redolent of the era as well as suggesting economic class. Bray Poor's original music and sound design enhance the tone of the various scenes.
In its day, The Member of the Wedding said something to a fragmented society. With time, this production should grow and continue to make its statements, which, regrettably, are still sorely needed today.
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Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
Directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch
Cast: Cast: Roslyn Ruff (Berenice Sadie Brown) Tavi Gevinson (Frankie Addams) Logan Schuyler Smith (John Henry West) Tom Pecinka (Jarvis) Louisa Jacobson (Janice) James Waterston (Mr. Addams) Liv Rooth (Mrs. West) Vinie Burrows (Sis Laura) Leon Addison Brown (T.T. Williams) Will Cobbs (Honey Camden Brown) Ben Ahlers (Barney MacKean )Delilah Napier (Helen Fletcher) Sara Haga (Doris)
Scenic Design: Laura Jellinek
Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design: Isabella Byrd
Sound Design/Original music: Bray Poor
Dialect Coach: Charlotte Fleck
Stage Manager: Lindsey Turtletaub
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, one intermission
Williamstown Theatre Festival Main Stage,Williamstown, MA
Opening:8/5/2018; Closing: 8/19/2018
Reviewed by Macey Levin at August 9, 2018 performance
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