"The Member of the Wedding"

A Full Length play by Carson McCullers

The Member of the Wedding
Frankie is in search of "the we of me" in "The Member of the Wedding.". Hero Images

Frankie Addams is an exuberant and outspoken 12-year-old tomboy growing up in a small Southern town in 1945. Her closest relationships are with Berenice Sadie Brown - the Addams’ family housekeeper/cook/nanny - and her younger cousin John Henry West. The three of them spend most of their days together talking and playing and arguing.

Frankie is enchanted with her older brother, Jarvis’s, upcoming wedding.

She even goes so far as to claim that she is in love with the wedding. Frankie is excluded from the main social group of girls that live in the same town and can’t seem to find her place among her peers or in her own family.

She yearns to be part of a “we” but refuses to truly connect with Berenice and John Henry in a way that would give her the “we” that she needs. John Henry is too young and Berenice is African American. The social constructs and age differences are too much for Frankie to overcome. Frankie gets lost in a fantasy where she and her older brother and his new wife depart together after the wedding and travel the world. She won’t hear anyone tell her differently. She is determined to leave her life behind and become part of their “we.”

The Member of the Wedding by American playwright Carson McCullers also has two subplots woven into and out of Frankie’s narrative. John Henry West is a quiet and easily pushed away boy who never gets the attention he needs from Frankie, Berenice, or anyone in his own family.

He tries to get noticed but is often set aside. This haunts Frankie and Bernice later when the boy dies of meningitis.

The second subplot involves Berenice and her friends T.T. Williams and Honey Camden Brown. The audience learns all about Berenice’s past marriages as she and T.T. tiptoe around a courtship.

Honey Camden Brown gets into trouble with the police by drawing a razor on a store owner for not serving him. Through these characters and several smaller roles, the audience gets a big dose of what life was like for the African American community in the South in 1945.

Production Details

Setting: A small Southern town

Time: August 1945

Cast size: This play can accommodate 13 actors.

  • Male Characters: 6
  • Female Characters: 7
  • Characters that could be played by either males or females: 0

Content Issues: Racism, talk of lynching

Roles

Berenice Sadie Brown is the faithful household servant to the Addams family. She cares deeply for Frankie and John Henry, but does not try to be a mother to them. She has her own life outside of Frankie’s kitchen and puts that life and those concerns first. She does not care that Frankie and John Henry are young. She challenges their views and does not try to protect them from the rough and messy parts of life.

Frankie Addams is struggling to find her place in the world. Her best friend moved to Florida last year leaving her alone with memories of belonging to a group and no idea of how to join another group. She is in love with her brother’s wedding and yearns to leave with Jarvis and Janis when the wedding is over.

There is no one around her who can or will provide Frankie with direction and emotional guidance during this turbulent time.

John Henry West is willing to be the friend Frankie needs but his age interferes with their relationship. He is constantly searching for a loving motherly figure but can’t find her. His happiest time is when Berenice finally pulls him up onto her lap and hugs him.

Jarvis is Frankie’s older brother. He is a handsome man who loves Frankie, but is ready to leave his family and begin his own life.

Janice is Jarvis’s fiancé. She adores Frankie and gives the young girl confidence.

Mr. Addams and Frankie used to be close, but she is growing up now and he feels that there must be greater emotional distance between the two of them. He is a product of his time and feels that the color of your skin matters greatly.

T.T. Williams is a pastor at the church Berenice attends. He is a good friend to her and could possibly be more if Berenice were interested in getting married a fifth time.

Honey Camden Brown is discontent with the racism he has to live with in the South. He often runs into trouble with white men and police. He makes his living playing the trumpet.

Other Small Roles

Sis Laura

Helen Fletcher

Doris

Mrs. West

Barney MacKean

Production Notes

The Member of the Wedding is not a minimalist show. The set, costumes, lighting needs and props for the play are substantial components that move the plot along.

Set. The set is a stationary set. It must show a partial area of the house with a kitchen area and a portion of the family’s yard.

Lighting. The play takes place over the course of several days, sometimes subtly changing from mid-day to evening in a single act. Lighting design needs to match the characters’ comments about the daylight and weather.

Costumes. Another large consideration in producing this play is costumes. The costumes must be period specific to 1945 with several changes of clothes and underclothes for the main actors. Frankie must have a custom wedding outfit designed and made to the specifications of the script: “She [Frankie] enters the room dressed in an orange satin evening dress with silver shoes and stockings.”

Frankie’s Hair. It is also important to note that the actress cast as Frankie must have short hair, be willing to cut her hair, or have access to a quality wig. The characters talk constantly about Frankie’s short hair.

Sometime before the play begins, the character Frankie cut her hair short in the style of a boy’s in 1945 and it has yet to grow back.

Background

The Member of the Wedding is a theatricalized version of the book The Member of the Wedding written by author and playwright Carson McCullers. The book has three main sections, each devoted to a different growth period in which Frankie refers to herself as Frankie, F. Jasmine, and then finally, Frances. Available online is an audio version of the book read aloud.

The play version has three acts that follow the main events of the book’s storyline and Frankie’s character arc, but in a less detailed fashion. The Member of Wedding was also made into a movie in 1952 starring Ethel Waters, Julie Harris, and Brandon De Wilde

Resources

Productions rights to The Member of the Wedding are held by Dramatists Play Service, Inc.

This video shows some scenes from the play and a version of the set.

Click here to purchase a version of the script.