Alice Childress’ Trouble In Mind is running now through June 3 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. CSC is the home of the classics. Trouble In Mind, first produced over 60 years ago, is a modern classic. CSC’s company breathes life into pages of the powerful script, which is more modern than one wants to admit.
The play is about WiIetta, a mature black actress cast in the starring role of a “progressive” play by a newly integrated Broadway theatre. The new script they rehearse is set on a Southern Plantation, and Wiletta, has a problem “justifyin’” or finding the motivation in the third act. Instead of smiling and rolling with it, she’s compelled to speak her mind to show the racist stereotypes perpetuated even in this “progressive” play.
This show is strong and solid. Candice Handy’s performance as Wiletta is a must-see. She maintains the gravitas to believably age herself for the role. She powerfully owns the stage as she first ponders and then unfurls what’s troubling her. (Just wait for the second version of her song.)
The Theme of Trouble In Mind
The script underlines how hard it is to live in a world where you are walking on eggshells, trying to mollify someone you know you can never mollify. Words matter. It is an exhausting process, constantly second-guessing the stereotype you think that person wants. And you realize there are “billions of things that can’t be said.” This is a universal issue which many encounter in a current job or family.
Each person at the rehearsal has reasons to be aware of their every word: budding male ingenue John (Brandon Burton), recent Yale Drama grad Judy (Courtney Lucien), extravagant Millie (Brianna Miller), and soap opera star Bill (Matthew Lewis Johnson). Bill has an ulcer and doesn’t want to eat with the rest of the cast, but the optics are bad, so he does. Millie never divulges her secret about why she needs the job, despite her opulence. Judy has to watch how much she talks about her Connecticut parents, and John is told not to get too chummy with Judy.
Wiletta begins the show by telling John to smile at anything the white folks say. That proves difficult as the Hollywood director (Justin McCombs) has some very different ideas about acting. He too, has issues with what people say about him–from the press to his ex-wife. He is verbally abusive to his stage manager Eddie (Cary Davenport) and Harry the doorman (Joneal Joplin), who do not respond. They all have lines about what people say about you – including Harry the doorman comments “a woman who will tell her age will tell you anything.”
The ensemble is superb. Each brings richness to the role. McCombs, usually a CSC comic actor, is especially intriguing in his handling of a difficult person. He’s someone you do not want to like, but he gives humanity to him, especially as he reacts to Bill’s monologue. The show has comedy, a bit of singing, as well as serious moments, including when Sheldon (Warren Jackson) methodically and quietly relates the story of a lynching.
Torie Wiggins (Director) brings the show together, emphasizing the theme and making every movement count.
The costuming (Darryl Harris) is rich and amazing, reminding us that people actually dressed for rehearsals before athleisure took over. Wiletta’s first act dress in mesmerizing, as the black and white stripes and multi-gored skirt show so many ways black and white can come together beautifully. Thank you, Mr. Harris, for some of the best costuming I’ve seen at CSC. The set (Shannon Robert) is every bricked backstage, from mismatched chairs and boxes to sandbags, ropes and pin rail. The lighting (Jessica Drayton) subtly emphasizes the action, and uses a bit of smoke and footlights.
Kudos to the soundtrack (usually a joint effort between sound designer–Robert Carlton Stimmel–and a director). The pre-show and intermission music set the time period well. The post-show song, “Ooh Child, things are gonna get easier” underlines the struggle–and hope.
Tickets to Trouble In Mind
This production is fresh, beautifully produced and will stick in your mind for a long time. Get your tickets to Trouble In Mind at the CSC Box Office. This must-see show runs through June 3.
Content Advisory: Contains adult themes, racialized violence, and strong language (including slurs).