The Old Globe‘s TROUBLE IN MIND is a very funny look at some serious topics. With an excellent cast, and a beautiful set this backstage comedy-drama is sure to have you laughing and leave you thinking after you exit the theatre. TROUBLE IN MIND is playing at The Old Globe through March 13th.
Written in 1955 by Alice Childress, this play still feels fresh and current, both in the subject matter and dialogue. That’s thanks not just to the writing, but also to director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg who knows when to play for laughs and when to highlight serious moments with stillness.
The excellent cast is led by Ramona Keller as Wiletta Mayer, a Black actress who is excited to have a lead in a play after a long career of singing roles and some side characters in films.
Victor Morris plays Sheldon, and Bibi Mama plays Millie, both experienced Black character actors who have worked with Wiletta previously. They try to help idealistic new actor John, played by Michael Zachary Tunstill learn the ropes of the business. That means playing nice, smiling, nodding, and laughing at jokes. They know the power imbalance isn’t in their favor so they do what they have to in order to succeed.
There is a lot of material for satire when their White castmates arrive. Judy, played by Maggie Walters is the saintly southern ingénue in the play within the play. She just graduated from Yale drama school, can’t hold her wine, and her main worry is if this play fails she’ll have to move back to her parent’s house in Bridgeport. Mike Sears plays Bill, an older actor who gets so nervous he can’t even have lunch with his Black castmates. Tom Bloom plays Henry, the affable theatre electrician turned doorman, and Jake Millgard is Eddie, the put-upon stage manager.
Kevin Isola plays Hollywood director Al Manners who has made “Chaos in Belleville”, a play about a deep south lynching written by a White playwright, his Broadway directorial debut. As Manners arrives he announces that his methods are unconventional, but in truth, he just tries to brush off offensive or unsavory moments with a laugh and a proclamation that his methods are working. He’s an excellent villain, but the character is so slimy that when he finally says out loud what he’s kept quiet it’s not that shocking.
The real power of the piece is how it navigates from laughter into more serious waters. The conversations as the actors tie themselves into knots about why and when offensive language is ok to say, pretending that Manners’ nonsense directing methods make sense to keep the peace, or the casual conversations about how a lifetime of compliance has only led to the same roles consisting of playing weeping mothers, servants, and lynching victims.
When Keller’s Wiletta finally decides to speak up and challenge Manners on the racist story, and his behavior, the show truly hits home about the personal cost of protesting. She may be alone in speaking the truth but hopefully, she’s not alone there for long.
The production features a gorgeous backstage scenic design by Lawrence E. Moten III, sharp costumes by Nicole Jescinth Smith, lighting by Sherrice Mojgani, sound by Luqman Brown, and stage manager Chandra R.M, Anthenill.
It would be nice to wish this were a historical piece reflecting on times gone by, but the truth of the play is that this material is still as relevant as ever.
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.
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