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A CurtainUp DC Review
Trouble in Mind
Arena Stage, whose mantra includes shedding light on "lost" American plays, has a real winner with Trouble in Mind. One forgets or perhaps never knew what life was really like in the mid-50's when thinly-veiled prejudices and the need to go-along to get-along were, one would hope, more prevalent than they are today.
As Wiletta Mayer, Childress's stand-in for herself, E. Faye Butler is extremely effective and moving and Childress throws plenty of fodder at her audience, sometimes too repetitively for a 21st-century audience. The conflicts are numerous.
The African-Americans versus whites conflict is represented by the tone-deaf director (Marty Lodge in a predictable, no-surprises, limited performance), a bigoted grey-haired actor (Daren Kelly) and the oh-so-liberal and oh-so-naïve Bridgeport, Connecticut blonde and Yale Drama grad (Gretchen Hall),at a time when that was the only part of the famed University that was open to women. Nice touch that.
Eddie (Garrett Neergaard), the director's much put upon assistant is played with great stoicism. The other whites are a stagehand (T. Anthony Quinn), a giant of a man who moves slowly and says nothing and the 78-year old, often forgetful stage door keeper and all-round gofer, played with leprechaun-like charm, complete with brogue, by Laurence O'Dwyer.
Director Irene Lewis holds her cast in check with a firm hand. While E. Faye Butler as Wiletta Mayer anchors the play, her character has met her match in the sassy Millie Davis, played with just the right amount of attitude by Starla Benford. Neither character can resist a little cattiness now and then.
Brandon J. Dirden as John Nevins, a young actor who in his real life is determined to vote and in the play-within-the-play faces a lynching. To give historical perspective to the lives of African-Americans a century after the Civil War and a decade before the Civil Rights movement takes hold, Thomas Jefferson Byrd as Sheldon Forrester gives an idiosyncratic performance that climaxes when he tells about the hideous wrongs he has witnessed.
David Korins's set reflects the pre-computer age backstage rehearsal room. Catherine Zuber's costumes — with corsets and hats for the women, loose trousers and hats for the men — add great authenticity to the 50's ambience.
Some revivals reek of nostalgia while others serve as a potent reminder of what was wrong, what has changed and what still needs to be worked on. Trouble in Mind has had an interesting past. Let's hope it has a busy future.
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company