Aired on KSDS-FM on 2/6/15
RUN DATES: 2/5/15 – 2/22/15
VENUE: Moxie Theatre
In the 1950s – much like today – America was a fraught cauldron of Us-Them dichotomies: suspected Communists vs. presumed Patriots; blacks vs. whites. Into this maelstrom stepped playwright Alice Childress and her sometimes comical but deeply moving drama, “Trouble in Mind.”
It’s a provocative play-within-a-play, centered on a white director helming a mostly African American cast. The piece they’re rehearsing is laced with black stereotypes and white heroism. But one actor chafes against the racist status quo, which unleashes a torrent of accusations and recriminations, ending on a darkly enigmatic note about whether the production will fold or go on.
This challenging creation won an Obie Award for its 1955 Off Broadway production, but plans to move the show to Broadway were scuttled, because Childress would not make the ending happier to please the producers. It would have been the first Broadway play penned by an African American woman. Instead, that honor went to Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” several years later.
Now, just in time for Black History Month, Moxie Theatre, like other companies around the country, is reviving and revitalizing the Childress play. It’s a stunning production, expertly, humorously and sensitively directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg. A superb ensemble, each carving out a memorable, credible individual, is headed by two local powerhouses: towering Ruff Yeager as the irascible, intractable director, and Monique Gaffney as the indomitable force, a veteran actor who refuses to step and fetchit onstage any more. If the director demands honesty in acting, the actor demands truth in black character portrayal.
The confrontation, way ahead of its time, reveals a range of black and white positions on race, integration and equality, depicted in often thrilling interactions, occasional laughter offsetting the depth of the resonant, relevant drama. The design work is excellent, with particularly notable wigs, costumes and lighting.
This searing production absolutely must be seen. We owe it to Childress, a nearly forgotten, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist — and to our still racially diverse and divided America.
©2015 PAT LAUNER/Patté Productions, Inc.