Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Trouble in Mind
Also see Susan's review of Fahrenheit 451
The play takes place at a rehearsal of a well-intentionedbut obviously not very goodplay about race relations in the American South, complete with an autocratic white landowner (Daren Kelly), his liberal-minded daughter (Gretchen Hall), and noble black sharecroppers. It's Broadway in the 1950s, and the hard-edged director, Al Manners (Marty Lodge), is trying to get through to his integrated cast, but he has to deal with what people today call "unexamined privilege."
The action of Trouble in Mind comes from the drama behind the drama: the assumptions, the hidden antagonism, the ways in which people go along to get along.
Indomitable Wiletta Mayer (E. Faye Butler) and outspoken Millie Davis (Starla Benford) try to show young, ambitious John Nevins (Brandon J. Dirden) that black actors have to show deference around white authority figures: for instance, be ready to laugh if there's any chance that the white man has said anything that might possibly be intended as a joke. Long-established character actor Sheldon Forrester (Thomas Jefferson Byrd) complains about the need to suck up, but he understands the truth of the situation.
For example, Al routinely kisses Wiletta on the forehead after giving her notes, but she wipes off her forehead as soon as he's otherwise occupied. The white men offer fatuous comments about believing in "just one racethe human race," but that doesn't stop one of them from talking about his discomfort eating with "them." And Wiletta and Millie discuss the roles available to black women: characters named after flowers and jewels (the play-within-a-play has a Petunia and a Ruby), and kindly Mammies who favor their white charges over their own children.
Director Irene Lewis has molded a strong ensemble out of her cast. While Butler is the heart and soul of the drama, the cast offers endearing and quirky performances even in the smaller roles, such as Laurence O'Dwyer as the garrulous stage doorman and Garrett Neergaard as the director's long-suffering assistant.