Skip to content

Review: Trouble in Mind just a start to peeling back layers of racism

A play within a play gives a glimpse into the world of theatre for a Black actress in the late 1950s.
Cast of Trouble in Mind, at The Citadel Theatre. Photo Nanc Price.

Trouble in Mind, now playing at The Citadel Theatre, is a noble effort in portraying racism in New York's theatre scene--and, of course, broader society too. It's a huge subject to tackle--the white hierarchy in the theatre, stereotypes of and opportunities for black actors--but it's all capably approached by a dedicated cast.

A co-production with Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, which just finished a successful run of the show, Trouble In Mind is a drama, with a few lighthearted moments and characters. When the cast gathers to begin rehearsals, racial biases and tensions rise.

The action revolves mostly around Wiletta Mayer, a talented Black actress, who finds her arguments to tell the truth of the story dismissed and decides to take action. Do her fellow Black actors support her stance, or keep the status quo, and their own employment? What about the actions of the white director? Does he even understand his ingrained racism?

Written by Alice Childress, the play originally opened in 1955, but due to pressures from producers to tone down the strength of her message, the play never saw its Broadway premiere. Now, after 65 years, the resurgence of this acclaimed story is finally able to showcase its message and reflection on identity--of using one's voice.

Alana Bridgewater plays Wiletta Mayer with conviction, bringing the needed gravitas to the subject. As the un-enlightened director Al Manners, Geoffrey Pounsett is likewise effective, though 'cringey'--a 'woke' audience over fifty years after the play's writing is suitably uncomfortable with Manners' attitudes and unacceptable treatment of the cast.

Also making an impression and providing a few lighter moments, are Reena Jolly as the ebullient MIllie Davis and Alvin Sanders as Sheldon Forrester--a wise and world-weary man who lives the same reality as his colleagues, but perhaps with a greater understanding of the impact of one's choices.

It's understandable why The New York Times recently called Trouble in Mind “the play of the moment”. While Childress’ script is over 60 years old, it speaks insightfully to a power imbalance that remains an issue in contemporary society, and the too-slow road to progress we are all on. 

Cherissa Richards, director of the Winnipeg and Edmonton productions, has obviously guided the project with respect and care for Alice Childress' script. Do see this show.

Trouble In Mind plays in the Shoctor Theatre until April 16.