Psychologist in racially charged drama on local stage

by Rita Charleston
Posted 11/11/21

“Wedding Band,” by Alice Childress, takes place in 1918 South Carolina and focuses on the love story between Julia, a black seamstress, and Herman, a white baker. The couple yearns to …

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Psychologist in racially charged drama on local stage

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“Wedding Band,” by Alice Childress, takes place in 1918 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 those obstacles is the anti-miscegenation law that makes their entire relationship not just socially taboo but illegal as well.

The play, directed by Vanessa Ballard and Carla Childs, is now running Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 21 at Old Academy Players in East Falls. In the provocative drama, not only are the characters in Childress' play actively negotiating how black and white communities can live together while dealing with the realities of racist violence in America, but they are also dealing with a looming health crisis in the form of influenza, which would go on to kill more than 600,000 people in the U.S. between 1918 and 1919.

In the midst of this harsh and unforgiving environment, Julia, faced with the disapproval of her neighbors, has been forced to move several times. Her latest move brings her to her newest neighbors, Mattie and Lula, and her landlady Fanny, who have been victimized by their husbands and who have experienced their own personal tragedies.

Carlene Lawson, who was born in Jamaica and now lives in King of Prussia, takes the role of Lula. Lawson, 55, is a single mother of two who works as a clinical psychologist when she's not acting. She told us that after not being able to perform on stage for the last 20 months, she is thrilled to be back enjoying her time as an actress, an interest she's had all her life.

Over the years, Lawson has appeared with various community theater groups and is now making her debut at Old Academy Players. She said she finds her current role both satisfying and challenging. “For example,” she said last week, “Lula has to speak differently depending on what situation she finds herself in. She speaks one way with her friends, but because of living in the South, she must speak softly and be viewed as non-threatening to the whites around her. Remember, this is 1918, and she must be acutely aware that her very life depends on following social norms.”

Lawson said her roles as a clinical psychologist and as an actress blend perfectly. “In fact, I think my role as a psychologist helps me bring an understanding to each role I'm playing,” she said. “As a psychologist, I love seeing people grow and change. And when I'm acting in certain roles, I hope I can see the same sort of thing happening.”

The mother of two young girls who may or may not follow in their mother's footsteps on stage, Lawson said, “When they are grown and when I have enough money put aside for their future, I look forward to doing more and more 'pretending.' I see my life filled with acting and doing wonderful roles on stage. That's my hope and my dream.”

Old Academy Players is located at 3544 Indian Queen Lane. The theater was formed 98 years ago  as the Moment Musical Club by 19 members of the Falls Methodist Church. Its most famous alumna was Grace Kelly, a Hollywood Oscar-winning and Golden Globe-winning actress in 1955 for the role of Georgie in “Country Girl,” by Clifford Odets. Born in Hahnemann Hospital, raised on Henry Avenue and schooled at St. Bridget's, Ravenhill Academy and Stevens School (at 8836 Crefeld St. in Chestnut Hill), Kelly became a real-life princess in Monaco. 

Kelly began her acting career on the stage of Old Academy Players in 1942, where she appeared in six productions between the ages of 11 and 14. Her sisters, Peggy and Lizanne, also performed there, and her uncle, George Kelly, had two of his plays produced there: “The Torch Bearers” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Craig’s Wife.”

For ticket information call 215-843-1109 or visit oldacademyplayers.org

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