“Trouble In Mind” was slated for a Broadway opening in 1957 but the all -white producers were a bit jittery about the way it ended. They wanted it to end happily and didn’t like the title. At the time playwright Alice Childress would have been the first African-American woman to have a play produced on Broadway. Childress, true to herself, couldn’t bring herself to make the changes. Her play was put on the back burner for half a decade. Loraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin In The Sun” took its place.
|Cast of "Trouble in Mind|
‘Mind’ is a play within a play called “Chaos in Belleville”, a melodrama/satire/comedy about anti-lynching (say that with tongue in cheek). The action takes place backstage in the rehearsal space of a Broadway Theatre in New York. Aptly decorated and designed by Lawrence E. Moten III and lit by Sherrice Mojgani to look like the backstage of a theatre with all colors and sorts of lights, a few scattered chairs and stage door, the space for the actors comes alive when they begin reading through the script.
This is a big day for Wiletta Mayer who enters the stage wearing one of Nicole Jescinth Smiths stunning costumes. She has finally landed a leading role in this new play that was to begin rehearsals for a Broadway opening. Some of her former black coworkers are also on the scene. They too are anxious to be in this ‘new’ play but are less inclined to stir things up by voicing their opinions to the director, but not Wiletta.
|Ramona Keller and Kevin Isola|
“White folks can’t stand unhappy Negroes chides Wiletta, so laugh”, she instructs the newbie’s like Michael Zachery Tunstill as John a recent college graduate, but don’t tell Al. “White’s don’t like Blacks to be too smart” she schools.
In the past Wiletta (a strong, extremely talented singer and actor, Ramona Keller) was of the mindset of pleasing her white director Al Manners (Kevin Isola), a total Dick, by using an upside down psychology that he has bought into. For the most part, eyes rolled, but they went along to get along.
Wiletta also played all the stereotypical black housekeeper roles she was handed and is ready to move forward. She played the game. As things shape up now though it appears she is still slated to doing laundry and singing spirituals. Now she is playing a sharecropper’s wife whose son John is being hunted down to supposedly be put in jail for protection. His crime: he wanted to voted in the local election.
|Ramona Keller, Michael Zachary Tunstill and Victor Morris|
Let’s call it what it is, he’s being ‘lynched’ and she’s supposed to be OK with that according to the script. How she and Manners interpret her role becomes the center of conflict while the give and take of her fellow actors take turns one would not expect.
The mostly all Black cast includes Victor Morris as Sheldon Forrester. He’s played opposite Wiletta many times. In ‘Chaos’ he’s her husband and is reduced to nothing but whittling pointlessly on a stick and nodding “Yes sir. And Thank you, sir”, but when Forrester tells the cast that he actually saw a lynching when he was a boy, silence fell on the house and cast members.
Others in the cast include Millie Davis (Bibi Mama) Wiletta’s oft time rival for the same parts, Judy Sears (Maggie Walters-Old Globe and U. San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatere Program) a young google eyed white actress from Connecticut who is to play the sharecroppers daughter.
An almost unrecognizable Mike Sears is Bill O’Wray a so uptight actor that he won’t even go to lunch with the Black cast. Other white actors include Jake Millgard who plays the stage manager Eddie, Tom Bloom plays Henry the electrician turned doorman and gofer. He and Wiletta go way back.
|Ramona Keller, Michael Zachary Tunstill, Mike Sears and Bibi Mama|
Yes, there is humor, bantering, friendly give and take between Wiletta and Millie that I must confess oft escaped me because of sound irregularities (Luqman Brown) and my not being able to catch every word. However, the contrast between friendly banter between director and star turns ugly and biting. By just watching their body language and the many standoff’s, especially toward the end of the rehearsals, no love is lost.
It’s Keller’s Wiletta and Isola’s Al that the show really belongs to. The fact that Al is such a racist just by way of his directing methods, interruptions from Wiletta and the fact that he is distracted by calls from his ex that he explodes in anger revealing his true racist feelings. With that (and no spoiler) Wiletta answers in kind. It’s not pretty but if we’re keeping score …
|Maggie Walters, Ramona Keller, Bibi Mama and Michael Zachery Tunstill|
The play gives us another point of view of the ‘Negro experience’ as witnessed by African-American actors wanting to play more than the stereotypical housekeeper, maids, whittling yes’m, males and or runaway young men slated for a lynching or being called Magnolia, Chrysanthemum, Crystal, Pearl or Opal.
What we do have is more satire and just plain stupidity by the white writers that makes one’s blood boil. The play is about the lynching of a young man in the south who angers the ‘white folk’ because he decides to vote in the local elections. Sound familiar?
We’re not talking 1957 (Civil Rights Act enacted in 1957) when Ms. Childress, whose play won an Obie Award off Broadway, positions her play. We are talking 2022. “Trouble in Mind” is even more timely now than it was in 2018 when Moxie Theatre was led by Sonnenberg who directed it then as well. It was powerful then, but packs a KO today.
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”…George Santayana
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through March 13.
Where: Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego
Tickets: $29 and up
Phone: (619) 234-5623
Photo: Rich Soublet II)
COVID protocol: Proof of full vaccination is required or negative test result from a COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of showtime. Masks are required at all times.