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By Taylor Barfield

Two River audiences were introduced to the work of Alice Childress through her play Trouble in Mind, which was first produced in 1955 and produced at Two River in 2014. That play focused on how race and racism operated in the commercial theater during the early 20th century and the responsibility that theater artists have when telling African American stories onstage. Childress herself was supposed to be the first African American woman to have a play of hers produced on Broadway, but was denied that distinction when she refused to change Trouble in Mind to make it more palatable and optimistic for audiences. Instead, Lorraine Hansberry became the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway with her A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. The play that you will hear today is another oft unheralded Childress classic called Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White, which was first produced in 1966.

Wedding Band takes place in 1918 in Childress’ native South Carolina and focuses on the love story between Julia, a black seamstress, and Herman, a white baker. The couple yearns to travel north to a place where they can get married and be together away from the many obstacles that have stood in the way of their nearly decade-long romance. One of the strongest obstacles for Julia and Herman are the anti-miscegenation laws making their relationship and prospective marriage not just socially taboo, but illegal. Such laws banning interracial relationships would not be repealed on the national level until 1967 when the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia deemed these laws unconstitutional. Despite the court victory, some southern states maintained anti-miscegenation laws in statutes or state constitutions well after 1967, with the last law being repealed in Alabama in 2000.

Not only are the characters in Childress’ classic play actively negotiating how black and white communities can live together while dealing with the realities of racist violence in America, they are also dealing with a looming health crisis in the form of Influenza, which would go on to kill over 600,000 people in the United States between 1918 and 1919. Much like today, Childress’ characters are forced to grapple simultaneously with the racial inequities of their day as well as a global pandemic. Perhaps never before has Childress’ play been so resonant as it is in 2020 and 2021. Engaging with this play today helps to foreground the ways in which this country has shifted in the past 100 years and the ways in which it remains the same.

For more information about Alice Childress and some of the historical context and themes in the play, follow this LINK.

For a deeper look into Alice Childress’ dramatic legacy, read Helen Shaw’s article “Alice Childress Didn’t Defang Her Plays, and Producers Said No” in Vulture by following this LINK.

For a deeper look into Loving v. Virginia, read Osagie K. Obasogie’s article “Was Loving v. Virginia Really About Love?” by following this LINK.

The cast of Trouble in Mind at Two River Theater includes, from left, Steven Skybell, Hayley Treider, Amirah Vann, Brian Russell, McKinley Belcher III and Brenda Pressley. Photo by T. Charles Erickson