“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” A cliche? Perhaps. Accurate? Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of Trouble In Mind by Alice Childress might just help with the answer.
Written in 1955, Trouble In Mind was set to be the first play written by a black woman on Broadway; however, Ms. Childress pulled it upon refusing to continue to edit and change the play’s ending, something expected of her without a fight at the time. In her first full-length play, Ms. Childress tells the story of Wiletta Mayer, a black actress cast is supposedly “progressive“ about racism by a white male author. As one might be able to guess, that isn’t exactly how it turns out.
Torie Wiggins directs Trouble In Mind
Hot off the well-deserved success of her own first full-length play at Ensemble Theatre Company, “Who All Over There?”, director Torie Wiggins takes the helm of this CSC production and gives the audience what can only be described as a masterpiece. From the casting to staging to knowing when to push the emotions to an appropriately uncomfortable place to keeping things subtle enough to truly get through, Ms. Wiggins is no doubt a true tour-de-force in the world of theatrical artistry.
Not to be out done, the crew of this classic exceeds any any all expectations. Stand-outs include the incomparable Daryl Harris who serves as Costume Designer and gives us one of the most beautifully costumed shows we shall ever see as well as the creative and effective lighting design by Jessica Drayton and Charlie Raschke. If you tend to read my reviews, you may see a theme in that I am a sucker for sharp lighting choices. Without giving anything away, I will say the choice to do an occasional fade in the middle of a scene is original and extraordinarily impactful in its subtly. We should all be so lucky to live a life designed by the incredible talent at CSC.
Amazing Cast of Trouble in Mind
Without a doubt, this reviewer feels that Trouble In Mind boasts one of the best-cast ensembles seen on Cincinnati stages. There is no weak link in this group! Almost as if to prove this point, there are several moments where multiple conversations are happening on stage between the actors. This could easily lead to chaos and confusion for the audience; due to the talent of these actors, we do not run into this issue.
It can sometimes sound like a backward compliment to say something is “the best thing we’ve seen them do.” Rest assured, the following assessments are not backward at all. Justin McCombs, CSC veteran extraordinaire, gives one of his best performances in the role of Al Manners. While the struggle of a white man in 1955 is not the primary focus, Mr. McCombs excels at toeing the line between advocate and adversary. This role certainly must have been a difficult one with which to find any sympathy during the acting process; luckily, Mr. McCombs has the chops as an artist to give us an incredible performance of a character with little virtue.
Cincinnati acting favorite Joneal Joplin joins the cast in the role of Henry and we are lucky for the privilege. While not the largest role, the expertise of Mr. Joplin makes this character eminent. The chemistry between his character and Candice Handy’s Wiletta Mayer is an absolute joy to behold.
And Ms. Handy: simply put, brava. In what is clearly the most challenging (and thus probably the most rewarding) role to tackle, she does not disappoint. Ms. Handy leads the way for the rest of this amazing cast with a glorious myriad of emotions conveyed in quiet ways, which are sometimes the loudest, and with words spoken in truth and vulnerability. She knew exactly when to make her voice thunderous literally and when to make it thunderous figuratively. It is obvious this artist possess a wisdom well beyond her years. Again, brava.
While some things may unfortunately “still stay the same,” this CSC production is a whole lot of different. One would be hard-pressed to choose a better season closer for this illustrious company. Alice Childress was ahead of her time…but would she be disappointed in how we are still living in 2023? Would she think things have changed? It can be easy to walk away with mixed feelings after being immersed in this story, but I choose to walk away with hope: for every single one of us who takes the time to listen and “mind” Ms. Childress’ immortal words, there is hope that we can grow and learn and impart this lesson to others. Let’s change things together.