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BWW Reviews: TROUBLE IN MIND at Two River Theater - Excellent and Relevant

Trouble in Mind, the classic American play by Alice Childress, is now onstage at Two River Theater through April 27th in their Rechnitz Theater. As part of the theater's 20th Anniversary Season, it is an excellent production that is a must-see for metropolitan area audiences.

Written by Childress in the 1950's, the play was rarely produced until rediscovered in 2007 by Irene Lewis of CENTERSTAGE in Baltimore. The theme of Trouble in Mind certainly has contemporary appeal as it explores attitudes about racial prejudice. Childress was known to concentrate her plays on the struggles and triumphs of the black poor and working classes.

The production is artfully directed by Jade King Carroll, superbly staged, and features an extraordinary cast. They deliver the dialogue without missing a beat; the hallmark of a compelling production.

Trouble in Mind discusses ethnicity in a very public place, the workplace. The play is set in the rehearsal space for an upcoming show, Chaos in Belleville. The theatrical company has been recently integrated and they are gathered for their first day of work. The roles in the play are definite racial stereotypes and this provokes clear conflicts. The arrogant, white director Al (Steven Skybell) is focused on the play's success, and he is often insensitive to his cast.

Much about the personal and professional divide is understood early in the show when seasoned actress Wiletta (Brenda Pressley) gives some advice to John (McKinley Belcher III) who is playing his first professional role. She tells him, ""White folks can't stand unhappy negroes."

And, it is also Wiletta who boldly opposes plot line of Chaos in Belleville, spurring thought-provoking conversations.

Trouble in Mind has a play-within-a-play format. There is a delicate separation between each actor's motivation to play the part they are given and how they feel about it. The African-American actors have been type-cast as downtrodden and subservient. While serious social themes prevail, Trouble in Mind has plenty of humor. Some of the stereotypes are greatly exaggerated and it is the spunky character of Millie (Amirah Vann) that keeps much of the humor flowing.

Trouble in Mind also exposes the reality of the theatrical profession; there are actors in the cast of Chaos in Belleville that really need the work. In a stand-out performance, Sheldon (Roger Robinson) is perfectly willing to assume his part without question. Yet, when pressed about his own background, it is exposed that as a boy he lived through very troubling times and witnessed a lynching.

Trouble in Mind is a theatrical experience that is more than entertaining; it is moving, thoughtful and relevant. You can purchase tickets by visiting the Two River Theater web site at or by calling (732) 345-1400.

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

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