Trouble in Mind, a Race Play About a Race Play, Begins Sept. 9 in DC

News   Trouble in Mind, a Race Play About a Race Play, Begins Sept. 9 in DC Trouble in Mind, Alice Childress' 1955 play about a racially integrated theatre company presenting race play, gets a Sept. 9-Oct. 23 revival by Arena Stage, the resident Washington, DC, company that never runs away from plays with juicy social conflicts at their core. E. Faye Butler stars.

E. Faye Butler
E. Faye Butler Photo by Richard Anderson

Director Irene Lewis stages the comedy-drama in collaboration with many of the cast and crew from CenterStage's acclaimed 2007 Baltimore production. Trouble in Mind plays the proscenium Kreeger Theater in Arena's Mead Center for American Theatre. Opening night Sept. 15.

Arena points out that Childress was the first African-American woman to have her plays professionally produced in New York. In Trouble in Mind, according to Arena, "battle lines are drawn within a newly integrated theatre company preparing to open a misguided race play on the Great White Way in the 1950s. As personalities and prejudices collide, lead actress Wiletta Mayer has the chance to achieve her most glorious dream, but at what cost?"

Butler (Arena's Oklahoma!, Crowns) leads the returning ensemble as Wiletta Mayer, along with Starla Benford as Millie Davis, Tony Award nominee Thomas Jefferson Byrd as Sheldon Forrester, Daren Kelly as Bill O'Wray, Garrett Neergaard as Eddie Fenton and Laurence O'Dwyer (Helen Hayes Award winner for Arena's The Fantasticks) as Henry. For Arena Stage's production they are joined by Brandon J. Dirden as John Nevins, Gretchen Hall as Judy Sears, Marty Lodge as Al Manners and T. Anthony Quinn as Stagehand.

There was a plan to move the original Off-Broadway production of Trouble in Mind to Broadway, but Childress would not make script changes that were suggested by producers. According to Arena notes, "By standing her ground and not making the requested changes she sacrificed the opportunity to become the first African-American female playwright produced on Broadway. A Raisin in the Sun would later garner that distinction for Lorraine Hansberry in 1959."

The creative team of Trouble in Mind also includes set designer David Korins, costume designer Catherine Zuber, wig designer Jon Carter, lighting designers Rui Rita and Carl Faber, sound designer David Budries, dramaturg Amrita Mangus, casting director Daniel Pruksarnukul, Stage manager Amber Dickerson and assistant stage manager Kurt Hall. Childress (1916-94) was an actress then a playwright and novelist. A founding member of American Negro Theatre, she wrote her first play, Florence, in one night in 1949 on a dare from close friend Sidney Poitier, who told her he didn't think a great play could be written overnight. She proved him wrong, and the play was produced Off-Broadway in 1950. In 1952, she became the first African-American woman to see her play (Gold Through the Trees) professionally produced in New York. In 1955, her play Trouble in Mind was a critical and popular success from the beginning of its run Off-Broadway at Greenwich Mews Theatre. Trouble in Mind received a well-reviewed Off-Broadway revival in 1998 by Negro Ensemble Company and has since been produced by Yale Rep, CenterStage, and Milwaukee Rep. Childress is perhaps best known today for "A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich," her 1973 novel about a 13-year-old black boy addicted to heroin, subsequently made into a movie in 1978. Her other plays include Just a Little Simple (1950), Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White (1966) and Gullah (1984). (Using information provided by Arena, an earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Childress won a 1956 Obie Award for Trouble in Mind. She did not.)

For more information, visit arenastage.org.

Garrett Neergaard and E. Faye Butler
Garrett Neergaard and E. Faye Butler Photo by Richard Anderson
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