The Wedding Band Recalls a Forbidden Love in the Time of Legal Segregation – Riverfront Times

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Alice Childress’ The Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White is a powerful examination of miscegenation that’s at once tender, hopeful and realistically prejudiced. The Black Rep explores this moving script in an excellent, nuanced production highlighted by captivating performances.

From enslavers abandoning (or selling) their children born by Black women to laws against marriage between people considered to be of different races to prohibitions against affection and marriage among same sex couples, our country has constructed barriers and fought against love time and again. Childress’ play, set in the south in 1918, expertly examines this truth.

Julia, a successful, independent Black seamstress, has recently rented a small house in the backyard of Fanny Johnson. Johnson is one of few Black landowners in the small South Carolina town where the play is set, and she’s determined to stay on the good side of the white folks. Two other rentals dot the backyard, one occupied by Mattie and her daughter Teeta, the other by Lula Green and her grown, adopted son Nelson.

There’s tension between the established residents and their new neighbor, but their interactions are reasonably friendly. Everyone bristles, however, when they learn that Julia is in love with and planning to marry Herman, a white baker with an exceptionally racist mother and less offensively racist sister. After Herman collapses in the backyard with influenza, the conflict increases. Julia fights with every fiber in her being to heal Herman and hold onto her dreams of moving to New York, where they can legally marry.

Jacqueline Thomas is captivating as Julia, a woman as self-assured and determined as she is devoted. Thomas capably navigates the play’s challenging arc with poise and a fully connected authenticity that underscores her character’s essential humanity and kindness. Jeff Cummings is sympathetic, yet genuinely duplicitous as Herman. His singular affection for Julia reflects his own deep-seated racism and is disturbingly but not unsurprisingly revealed in a feverish recitation.

Velma Austin walks a fine line between self-preservation, decency and the desire to elevate herself in white society, but she’s not intentionally mean-spirited. Christina Yancy exudes a genuinely caring and pure heart as Mattie, a woman doing her best to hold on until her husband returns from war. Vivian Helena Himes and Lucy Miller are delightful as daughter Teeta and Princess, the white girl Mattie watches. Tamara Thomas and Christian Kitchens fill Lula and Nelson with the desire for a better future while Isaiah Di Lorenzo, Kari Ely and Ellie Schwetye display the casual cruelty and overt racism prevalent in white society in 1918.

The Wedding Band is a powerfully affecting and expertly constructed story about forbidden love. The vestiges of systemic racism are woven throughout Childress’ pointed dialogue in ways that echo opinions still held by some, even if less overtly expressed. Despite all the obstacles and cruelty, Thomas ensures Julia remains a steadfast, deeply caring soul, making audiences long for a happier outcome. The Black Rep’s production, directed with finesse by Geovonday Jones, is a tragically beautiful tale you won’t want to miss, though it may break the heart of anyone with compassion for love that blossoms without adhering to established rules.

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