This past July, I found myself standing outside 1519 Stark Avenue in Columbus, Georgia. It was a Thursday afternoon and everything was going haywire in Greensboro and New York — an actor had dropped out of our first show four days from 1st rehearsal, and I had spent my Georgia morning on the phone problem solving and planning. But this 1920’s bungalow was the reason for my journey to Columbus, and for the next hour, I wanted nothing to disturb me. So I silenced the phone, walked up to the door and knocked.
I had come to Columbus to tour a house that was not unlike any number of houses nearby. I had come with recent re-readings of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and, of course, the novel and dramatization of The Member of the Wedding. I had come to Columbus to get a sense of the city and the world that had shaped Carson McCullers.
But nothing prepared me for the thrill of crossing the threshold. This was not Frankie’s house. It was Carson’s. And it had not been McCullers’ home for 70 years. And yet it was possible to imagine both Carson McCullers and Frankie Addams running through the foyer. The kitchen table and the side door to the driveway seemed to hold the ghost of Berenice. The grape arbor was gone, but it seemed as if the memories of John Henry playing beneath it were vivid even though they were fiction, not fact.
Perhaps it is my overactive imagination, but these houses of the famous seem to be haunted. An energy or a presence seems to remain. I have felt it many times in my pursuit of understanding the world of a favorite writer. But this time, I felt as if the energy went with me back to the streets of Columbus. I realized that the world of McCullers was not as simple as a home. She had been shaped, molded and forged by the South, by this particular Southern city. If Carson McCullers and Frankie Addams were at Stark Ave., they were also on Broadway downtown and by the abandoned mills by the Chattahoochee River. They were in the mystique of the “old South,” in the dividing lines between white and black, in the rigid gender roles of conservative society.
And as I continued to follow McCullers’ trail to Charlotte and Fayetteville, to Manhattan and Brooklyn, to Saratoga Springs and Nyack, I realized the spirit of Carson McCullers was Southern in essence but far bigger than a house, a street, a city. She was, perhaps, the greatest American explorer of the solitary heart. She peeled back human skin both black and white to expose the longings and failings of particular people in particular places. Her words were too powerful to be limited to just one particular region. Berenice, Honey, Frankie were in Columbus, yes. But they were in New York. They were in France, in China, in anywhere where people yearned to belong
Carson McCullers and this odd and wonderful play remind me why I am committed to ensuring Triad Stage fosters a unique Southern voice. I believe she is one of the finest of all Southern writers. But I also believe her one of the finest of all 20th century writers. Her stories are rooted in region but are never merely provincial. Like all great literature, The Member of the Wedding is more than a story, it is a key to understanding our human hearts.
PRESTON LANE Director of The Member of the Wedding / Triad Stage Artistic Director and Co-Founder
Photos by Preston Lane