Review "Trouble in Mind": Rehearsed Discrimination Simmers to a Boil!

The Artistic Home presents


At 3914 N. Clark
Written by Alice Childress
Directed by Vaun Monroe
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru March 20th
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  One hour and forty-five minutes includes a ten minute intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

According to Shakespeare, 'all the world is a stage.'  People are constantly acting out their society assigned roles.  If everybody is acting, what is real and what is pretend? And what happens when a professional actor rejects both the roles she plays in the world and on stage?  The Artistic Home presents Alice Childress' Obie award-winning play TROUBLE IN MIND.  It's 1957 on Broadway.  A racially-mixed cast begins rehearsals for "Chaos in Belleville."  Black cast members joke about the limited and stereotyped options available for black actors. Wiletta, an established actress gives the new kid tips on taking white direction as a black person.  When the kid becomes the suggested submissive, jovial caricature, Wiletta starts to regret her influence.  As the white director and white cast members act super-sensitive to potential racial slurs and segregation within the ensemble, their true prejudice slips out in subtle, obtuse ways.   With increasing indignation, Wiletta questions a script line.  What happens in 1957 when a black person refuses to play the part assigned?  TROUBLE IN MIND simmers to a boil with equal parts of comedy/drama, black/white, tolerance/bigotry.    


Playwright Alice Childress goes behind the scenes in a play within a play's rehearsals.  The theatre community is an interesting place to explore discrimination.  It's actually a profound choice as a 1950's workplace trying to avoid racial tension to produce results.  The layers of acting that are involved for a Broadway show rehearsal heighten the comedy and drama of the cultural misperceptions.  Under director Vaun Monroe, the ensemble unites and divides as actors playing actors playing characters.  Monroe stages it authentic with varying degrees of formality.  Initially, the back stage is a wise cracking homecoming for the black cast.  Add the white actress, the ambiance gets polite and stilted.  Cue the white director, the activity is guarded and superficial.  Velma Austin (Wiletta) reigns supreme as an actress.  Despite primarily being on the sidelines, Austin's poignant transformation floods the stage.   John Mossman (Al) plays it amicably controlling.  As the pretend play's director, Mossman is The Man.  He arrogantly barks nonsensical instructions 'don't study, just learn it.' The entire cast steps gingerly around the black elephant in the rehearsal room.   There is undeniable discomfort for the audience at deciphering what laughter moments would be considered politically correct.     

Playwright Alice Childress penned a play that must have been the shocking talk-of-the-town in the 1950's.  The controversial depiction of society must have evoked strong anger and denial reactions.    Fifty years later, the content has more of a historical entertainment value.  It's a look back at an ignorant generation with laughter and disgust.  Right?  Or is that wishful thinking on my part because I'm white?  TROUBLE IN MIND leaves behind a troubled mind.


The guy to first introduce me to The Artistic Home, Tom says about the show 'act, don't think!'


Production photo courtesy by Tim Knight

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