When I stepped into the theatre at Triad Stage last Sunday for The Member of the Wedding, I knew I was about to experience a special performance. The cast and crew transformed the theatre into the space of author Carson McCullers’ youth—a space filled with laughter and also with the anguish of adolescence. The play not only explores the adolescence of main character Frankie Addams but also of the 1940s South, and more generally, of 1940s America, as immense changes were taking place across the globe.
Like Frankie, as a child, Carson felt that she wasn’t a member of the polite southern society in which she grew up. Carson was a tall, gangly girl, who dressed and acted more like a tomboy than a lady. She was an avid explorer, and when she walked or biked in her hometown of Columbus, Georgia, Carson witnessed segregation and poverty. Instead of just blindly ignoring it, Carson openly questioned inequality at a very young age—perhaps because she felt like an outsider, too. In The Member of the Wedding, these childhood experiences are reprised in Frankie’s relationships with the girls of the social clubs and also Berenice Sadie Brown and her brother Honey.
Carson’s childhood in Georgia certainly shaped her writing, but Carson’s time in New York also influenced the play. In 1941, Carson’s marriage to Reeves McCullers began unraveling when the couple fell in love with other men and women, leading to many triangular relationships. This unraveling led Carson to move into a house in Brooklyn named the “February House,” where prominent artists gathered daily to debate the role America would play in World War II. In both the novel and the play versions, Frankie obsesses with finding love and membership, but she also contemplates the disconnection of the world and its peoples, especially during wartime.
Of all of her works, Carson felt The Member of the Wedding to be the most significant, and so she persisted in seeing the play adaptation through its process, despite the social ills of the era as well as her own traumatic illnesses and romances. With this production, Triad Stage movingly brings to life not just Frankie’s story but also that of Carson McCullers.
Carr, Virginia Spencer. The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers. Athens, GA: UGA Press, 1975.
Tippins, Sherill. February House: The Story of W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee Under One Roof in Brooklyn. New York: Mariner Books, 2006.