The cast of Trouble In Mind (From left to right: Kris L. Nelson, Margo Moorer, Marcel Spears, Peter Thomson, John Catron and Chloe Armao). Photo by Keri Pickett.
I love it when a play gets its title right. When after you see the play the title makes so much sense, when it is able to wrap up the feelings imparted by the play in three words you know it is smart and to the point. And that is what Alice Childress' play, first performed in 1955, is. It is a play that feels massive and small all at the same time. It deals with many of the important issues of the time, in 1955 and also today in 2016. Racism, violence, ageism, sexism are all addressed, sometimes subtly and sometimes by knocking you over the head with the truth. And when you think about all these issues, there is Trouble In Mind.
All of these issues are brought up and discussed in the rehearsal room for a new play, "The Chaos In Belleville." Our play (Trouble In Mind) starts at the beginning of rehearsal (for their play), some of the characters know each other, know the rhythms and expectations. Know how to get by and keep your job. Mainly by being agreeable, laughing at bad jokes, and not asking too many questions. Others are new to the business. But everyone's tensions rise as this particular group of people are put together and as the director, Al Manners played by John Catron, asks perhaps too much of them. Asks for them not only to give the performance that he and the audience wants, but to look for the reason and the motivation. To dig into their own lives, pasts and feelings.
The cast of Trouble in Mind (from left to right: Margo Moorer, Cleavant Derricks, Austene Van and Marcel Spears). Photo by Keri Pickett.
The play which they are rehearsing "The Chaos In Belleville" does little to relieve the tensions. It is a play set in a small town in the deep south, and whose characters are sharecroppers, the white owners and whose conflict comes from the threat of a lynching. A large part of the conflict in the second act resolves around the plot of this play and the the problems that Wiletta, the main and most experienced actor in the troop, portrayed by Margo Moorer, has with the play's conclusion. A conclusion that is obviously written to make the white people in the audience feel better be able to play the heroes while still delivering tragedy. But it ultimately untrue to Wiletta and the other black characters. After being forced to find truth behind everything her character is saying there is no truth in this.
Her discontent finally comes to life in a beautiful monologue that still feels true today. This is a play that is ripe with monologues, all different and all bringing a fuller fledged and vital shade of truth to the story. And they are all delivered wonderfully. The most cutting delivered by Sheldon Forrester, played by Cleavant Derricks, as he retells his memory of seeing a lynching. It seemed that scene after scene in this play as different difficulties were highlighted I was struck with the though, I can't believed this happened only 60 years ago, shortly followed by I can't believe these problems still exist.
I feel like the Guthrie was at the top of it's game with this production. With the choice of the work I feel like the Guthrie was catching up to similar conversation worthy work of other theater companies in the Twin Cities this season, and the execution was extremely well done. The set designed by Jennifer Zeyl greets you as you enter the house and puts you in both the scene of a broadway house in the time period of the 1950s. The costume design by Melanie Burgess brings you more into this world. And the direction of Valerie Curtis-Newton (the first African American woman to direct at the Guthrie) brings all the design aspects together with the performances masterfully.
Trouble in Mind is a show that brought up important conversations in 1955, and these conversations are still just as important today. I highly recommend you go see this show at the Guthrie before it closes June 5.