Wedding Band: A Love Story in Black & White by Alice Childress

THE BASICS: Wedding Band : A Love Story in Black & White by Alice Childress at Lorna C. Hill Theater at Ujima Theatre Company, 429 Plymouth Avenue, Buffalo;  Thursdays – Sundays from May 9 – May 19; for tickets — or call 716-281-0092 

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: A spell-binding story by one of the most important playwrights of the modern era. Set in 1918, in  the deep south, during the flu epidemic, Alice Childress’s seldom-produced 1966 masterpiece is one of American drama’s most revealing stories of interracial love. The play traces a devoted couple’s caustic confrontations with anti-miscegenation laws, vicious family racism, community disapproval, deadly disease and their own long-buried feelings.

RUNTIME: 2 hours and a 10 minute intermission


Alice Childress wrote Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and Whitein 1962 and, because interracial love was still such an inflammatory subject at the time, Childress was unable to get it staged in NYC. The play premiered in 1966 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and, finally, in 1972 it was performed in New York at the New York Shakespeare Festival – directed by Ms. Childress with Joseph Papp. When Wedding Band was filmed for television in 1974, many stations refused to screen it.

Wedding Band is an engrossing play with a surprisingly modern focus on women. Each of the female characters has a different point of view and her own way of dealing with the roadblocks she encounters in the world around her. And the issues that affect them, including racism, classism, gender, and xenophobia, are still relevant today.

Direction by Sarah Norat-Phillips is exquisite – powerful, sensitive and natural. The set by Curtis Lovell is realistic and well detailed. And the costumes by Jennifer Simpson are perfect. No corners were cut here.

In the multidimensional leading role of an intelligent, lonely person struggling to live a happy life in spite of dead ends, injustices and contradictions, Gabriella McKinley as Julia is glorious! She is captivating, warm, and very human. I have seen a lot of good productions throughout WNY this season and I am not in a position to give awards, but, if I could, I would vote Ms. McKinley Best Actress in a Drama of the theatrical season.

There is admirable ensemble work from the rest of the cast. Ben Caldwell gives 100% in the difficult role of Julia’s well-intentioned but heart-torn lover who is caught in the web of racism. Mary Moebius is strong as his hard and bitter mother, and Tanika Holmes, is very amusing as the hoity-toity busybody of a landlady. Phil Knoerzer is perfectly despicable as the racist salesman. The two perky little girls are Nyeelah Broughton and Claire Takacs. And Nelson is played with both humor and desperation by Cordell Hopkins.

The neighborhood women are especially affecting and each of them nails their moment in the spotlight – Jacqueline Cherry is earnest Lula who counts on religion to help her cope and Nathania Sampiao is the lovely Mattie – making a huge effort to get by in spite of many strikes against her.

All the elements of good theatre have come together successfully here — much to the credit of director Sarah Norat-Phillips. This is a splendid production of an important play.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

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