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The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers' 1950 stage adaptation of her own 1946 coming-of-age novel, opened on Jan. 5, 1950 on Broadway, where it played 501 performances and won the 1950 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. Set in August 1945 in a small Southern town still celebrating the end of World War II, this vintage domestic drama focuses its spotlight on two unlikely characters: a tall, somewhat awkward motherless 12-year-old tomboy with very short hair named Frances "Frankie" Addams (played by 13-year-old Chapel Hill actress Madeline Chloe "Maddie" Taylor in the current Theater of the American South production) and the Addams' family's long-time African-American cook Berenice Sadie Brown (Triangle actress and singer Yolanda W. Rabun).
In addition to ruling the Addams family kitchen with an iron hand, Berenice serves as a surrogate mother to Frankie, who is a restless, misfit tween who desperately wants to put the boredom of small-town life in her rear-view mirror. Indeed, Frankie is obsessed with the notion of accompanying her soon-to-be-married older brother Jarvis (Fletcher Duke), a soldier stationed in Alaska, and his bride Janice (Jesse Jones) on their honeymoon. But that's not going to happen, so Berenice must prepare the temperamental and headstrong Frankie for a colossal letdown.
Maddie Taylor gives a spunky performance as Frankie, who is already a social pariah among the preteen set and — despite what she claims — is really desperate to fit in; and Yolanda Rabun is positively radiant as Berenice, whose kitchen serves as a safe harbor for Frankie when the stormy seas of adolescence threaten to pull her all the way under.
Another one of the Triangle's finest actors, Eric Carl, has little to do — but does it well — in portraying Frankie's workaholic father, Royal Quincy Addams, who spends little time with his daughter although she's starving for his attention. Jesse Jones and Fletcher Duke add a couple of cameos as Janice and Jarvis, the bride and groom whose upcoming nuptials give this play its title.
Daniel Murphy is a bit too big to play Frankie's nine-year-old cousin and best friend John Henry West, and he is so softspoken at times that his lines are only partially audible beyond the footlights. But William Byrd Wilkins is good as Berenice's ever-congenial boyfriend T.T. Williams; and Jason Cooper is truly memorable as Berenice's fretful foster brother Honey Camden Brown, who rebels against the indignities heaped upon him in the Jim Crow South and gets soundly beaten for his uppity attitude.
Judging from the Saturday matinee, not-quite-gelled performance that I witnessed, director Adam Twiss of the Barton College Theatre Department and Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy still has a lot of rough edges to polish. Scenic designer Chris Bernier's vivid recreation of the kitchen and — via a swinging wall — the back porch and backyard of the Addams' home is impressive, as are the vintage 1940s fashions recreated by costume designer Diane Blackwell. With some fine-tuning, The Member of the Wedding will complete its three-week run on May 21-23, 27, 29, and 30 in the Edna Boykin Cultural Center in Wilson, NC, purring like the V-8 engine in the bride and groom's getaway car. See the CVNC theater calendar for details.