“Wedding Band,” a play by the late, great Alice Childress, is experiencing a breathtaking production at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn on Ashland Place. It is presented and produced by Theatre for a New Audience as part of its residency of CLASSIX—a collective created by Awoye Timpo with Brittany Bradford, A.J. Muhammad, Dominique Rider and Arminda Thomas—that concentrates on Black performance history and Black writers. Childress’ play is one of the most gripping pieces of theater you would want to experience. She writes about Charleston, South Carolina, a place where racism is alive and well in 1918. A place where a Black soldier in uniform can have water thrown upon him by the poor whites in the community who resent seeing him in a military uniform. A place where Black men are still being lynched and must always watch what they say to white people. A place where white, racist mothers are proud to teach their children to hate Black people and consider them always beneath them. With all of this tension in the air, we find Black ladies living in a rooming house, owned by the only Black woman in town allowed to own property, Ms. Fanny Johnson. The rooming house is home to Mattie and her daughter, Teeta, Lula Green and her son Nelson, a Black soldier. And then a newcomer, Julia Augustine, arrives.
When Julia first moves in she tries to stay to herself, but finds that, in this small community, that is hard to do. When she, desperate for company, shares her secret with the other ladies, they at first turn away. You see, Julia, a beautiful, Black seamstress, is having an affair with a white baker named Herman and has been doing so for 10 years. An affair that is against the anti-miscegenation laws and so has caused her to keep moving from place to place so that they can be together.
The Black women and the young Black soldier try to tell Julia all that white people have done and continue to do to our people. They tell her that he is using her. Herman comes to Julia’s home and it’s soon realized that he has yellow fever. His mother and sister are sent for, because the police can’t be called. It is illegal for him to be in a Black woman’s bed. Julia is very distraught that she can’t send for a doctor. Herman’s sister Annabelle comes to get him, but insists on waiting until it’s dark. She immediately starts verbally attacking Julia and Herman for doing this horrible thing. She also lets them know that she and his mother knew something wasn’t right. When his mother arrives she is filled with hatred; everything she says to Julia has a racist bite. Furious that her son has been keeping time with a Black woman, she would rather he die than call a doctor and face the shame of his location. When Herman’s mother speaks her words show what deep racism looks like. Julia comes back at her with both barrels, only to have Herman, who has been suffering with yellow fever, react with racist remarks as well.
Suddenly, she truly appreciates all the warnings and the anger of her people about this relationship. She realizes that there have been many times in their relationship when she would want to talk about the racist acts of the people around them and Herman would shut her down. Childress has developed all her characters with great detail, enabling them to represent so vividly the horrific situations that Black people faced during those times and, of course, sadly are still facing today. In this play, their love was not really enough, because the entire world was against them. The entire world seemed to feel it could legislate who one could love. This story truly resonates on so many levels. The “Wedding Band” ultimately demonstrates the ties that bind the Black community. It also shows the strength of true love.
The company of actors is exceptional. Brittany Bradford delivers Julia with a precious tenderness and vulnerability, but also a feistiness. Thomas Sadoski is marvelous, gentle and caring as Herman, though he is also conflicted between his love for Julia and his loyalty to his very racist, cruel Mother. Rebecca Haden is memorable as Annabelle. Veanne Cox is incredibly vicious as Herman’s mother. She gives that role such teeth and just leaves you stunned. Rosalyn Coleman is magnificent as Lula Green and Rendrick Palmer is poignant as her son Nelson. Nelson is daily disrespected in the town and so Julia loving a white man is like a slap in the face and Palmer delivers that anger and those frustrations beautifully! Elizabeth Van Dyke brings her A-game to the role of Fanny Johnson, she is brilliant! Her character represents the Black woman’s success, but also her intelligence as she knows how to maneuver her way around the racists in her midst. Phoenix Noelle is delightful as Teeta, as is Sofie Nesanelis as Princess. Max Woertendyke does well as the Bell Man, who goes around selling his wares to the Black women, while blatantly showing them disrespect.
This play will leave you speechless, as its direction is perfectly executed by Awoye Timpo. The play only runs through May 22. Please make plans to go and be mesmerized by a vividly powerful production.
For more info, visit www.www.tfana.org.