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Alice Childress' TROUBLE IN MIND Opens Arena Stage at the Mead Center 2011-12 Season

After a memorable and record-breaking inaugural year, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater celebrates its 61st anniversary season with Trouble in Mind, written by playwright Alice Childress. Childress was the first African-American woman to have her plays professionally produced in New York, and she became the first woman of color to win an Obie Award, in 1956 for Trouble in Mind (Best Original Production). Making her directorial debut with Arena Stage, Irene Lewis helms the comedy-drama in collaboration with many of the cast and crew from CenterStage's successful 2007 production, which was hailed by Variety as "bracingly prophetic" and "movingly effective."

E. Faye 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 and Marty Lodge as Al Manners. Trouble in Mind runs from September 9 to October 23, 2011 in the Kreeger Theater.

In Trouble in Mind, battle lines are drawn within a newly integrated theater 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?

Though it was intended for Broadway after the success of its Off-Broadway run, Trouble in Mind's controversial themes made producers request rewrites-a situation ironically similar to what the characters in Trouble in Mind face. 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.

"Theater is all about taking risks, and Alice Childress certainly took a risk in writing a piece like Trouble in Mind at such a turbulent point in our nation's history," says Arena Stage Managing Director Edgar Dobie. "Childress was ahead of her time, but the messages in the show are still just as meaningful today. We are excited to begin our season with this brilliant work by one of America's trailblazing playwrights."

"I am delighted that Molly has brought this groundbreaking play to Arena Stage," shares Director Irene Lewis. "This is a very special piece, and D.C. is a great place to do it."

Alice Childress (1916-94) (Playwright) Raised during the Harlem Renaissance under the watchful eye of her beloved maternal grandmother, Childress became first 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 Alice 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). Throughout her career, she examined the true meaning of being black, and especially of being black and female. As she herself once said, "I concentrate on portraying have-nots in a have society."

Irene Lewis (Director) was artistic director of Baltimore's CenterStage for 20 seasons where she directed a wide range of material: musicals from Sweeney Todd to H.M.S. Pinafore; classic plays from Shakespeare and Chekhov to Schiller and Shaw; undervalued modern works like The Investigation to Trouble in Mind; and premieres by David Feldshuh, Motti Lerner, George Walker and Elizabeth Egloff. She also commissioned and produced works that went on to further life, including Intimate Apparel, Elmina's Kitchen, Police Boys and Thunder Knocking on the Door. Her productions earned many Best of Baltimore citations in the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Magazine and City Paper. Her proudest achievement at CenterStage was the racial diversification of her board, staff, repertory and, most importantly, the audience. Before coming to CenterStage, she was associate director of Hartford Stage Company, where she helmed an equally wide range of work. Her TV film Ives!, a play about Charles Ives commissioned by Hartford Symphony, won a PBS award. She has freelanced at many theaters around the country including Mark Taper, Berkeley Rep (her productions of The Misanthrope and Man and Superman being nominated for Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards), Williamstown Theatre Festival, Seattle Rep, Sundance Festival, Glimmerglass Opera Festival, Yale Rep and N.Y. Shakespeare Festival, as well as the National Theatre of Yugoslavia in Macedonia. She has degrees in theater from Hofstra Univ. and Yale School of Drama and has taught and directed at NYU, Cornell and Juilliard. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from McDaniel College in 2011.

The Cast of Trouble in Mind (in alphabetical order):

Starla Benford (Millie Davis) makes her Arena Stage debut. Other D.C.: Antony and Cleopatra (Shakespeare). Broadway/Off-Broadway: Macbeth (Music Box), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Music Box), A Streetcar Named Desire (Roundabout), Vagina Monologues (Westside Arts), Macbeth (TFANA), Stonewall Jackson's House (American Place; Obie, Outer Critics Circle noms). Regional/Tours: The Oresteia, Slaughter City, Christopher Durang's Media Amok (ART); A Streetcar Named Desire (Cleveland); From the Mississippi Delta (Stamford TheatreWorks; Conn. Critics' Circle Award); The Venetian Twins (Guthrie); Death of a Salesman (Yale Rep); Trouble in Mind (CenterStage), Hold Please (Old Globe), Vagina Monologues (1st national; League of Broadway Theatres nom). International: Doubt (Irish premiere, Abbey). Film/TV: United 93; Half Nelson; 13; A Perfect Murder; Nurse Jackie; Law & Order: SVU/CI; 3 lbs.; Third Watch; Rescue Me; and numerous daytime dramas. Grad of ART at Harvard.

E. Faye Butler (Wiletta Mayer) is returning home to Arena. Previously at Arena: Oklahoma!, Crowns, Ain't Misbehavin', Polk County and Dinah Was. Other D.C.: Gospel According to Fishman, Saving Aimee (Signature); Take Joy (Strathmore); The Great Gatsby, Moon Until June (Washington Ballet/Kennedy Center). Regional: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Once on This Island, Caroline or Change, Trouble in Mind (CenterStage); Crumbs from the Table of Joy (Steppenwolf); Christmas Carol, Purlie (Goodman); The Wiz (La Jolla). Tours: Dinah Was, Mamma Mia, Ain't Misbehavin', Don't Bother Me I Can't Cope, Nunsense, Nunsense 2. Awards: Helen Hayes, John Barrymore, nine Joseph Jefferson, three Black Theater Alliance, Ovation, Excellence in the Arts, After Dark.

Thomas Jefferson Byrd (Sheldon Forrester). Broadway: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (Theatre World Award, Tony nom). Regional: Crowns (Arizona Theatre, ATL, Portland Center Stage); Gem of the Ocean (ATL); Spunk (San Diego Rep); Two Trains Running, The Piano Lesson, Flyin' West, Hamlet, Miss Evers' Boys (Indiana Rep); Good Boys (ACT); The Darker Face of the Earth (Oregon Shakespeare). Film/TV: Ray; X, Y; Bamboozled; Bulworth; Clockers; Get on the Bus; He Got Game; Set It Off; MacArthur Park (Sundance nom); Lackawanna Blues (HBO); Living Single; Mama Flora's Family; Passing Glory; Boycott; Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Brandon J. Dirden (John Nevins) makes his Arena Stage and D.C. area debut. On Broadway, Brandon was seen in Enron and the revival of Prelude to a Kiss. Off-Broadway, Brandon has appeared in Peter and the Starcatchers at N.Y. Theater Workshop, The First Breeze of Summer and Day of Absence at Signature Theatre, and Bottom of the World at Atlantic Theater. Regional theater credits include Magnolia (Goodman); Fences (Huntington; South Coast Rep); Topdog/Underdog (PlayMakers Rep); Ceremonies in Dark Old Men (Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre); Othello, Twelfth Night, Metamorphoses, Comedy of Errors and others (Georgia Shakespeare Festival); Julius Caesar and As You Like It (North Carolina Shakespeare Festival). Brandon earned a B.A. in mathematics and drama from Morehouse College and an M.F.A. in acting from Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Gretchen Hall (Judy Sears) was most recently seen at Arena Stage in the Edward Albee Festival. She was also seen last season as Imogen in Shakespeare Theatre Company's Cymbeline. She has performed regionally at Westport Country Playhouse (Elizabeth in The Circle), CenterStage (Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Irene Lewis, and Maria in the American premiere of Let There Be Love), Hartford Stage (Brand New Festival's The Sprott Cycle), Shakespeare on the Sound (Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream and the Courtesan in Comedy of Errors) and Hangar Theater (Pegeen in Playboy of the Western World). Internationally, she performed in a three-person Pericles with Continuum Company in Florence, Italy. Her TV credits include Louie, Law & Order, Gossip Girl and Lipstick Jungle. She earned her M.F.A. in acting from New York Univ. and her B.A. in acting from Fordham Univ.

Daren Kelly (Bill O'Wray). Broadway: South Pacific (NYCO); Woman of the Year; Deathtrap; Crazy for You. Tours: 42nd Street; Ah, Wilderness!; Children; Footloose; Crazy for You (also international). Regional: La Cage aux Folles (Gateway); Ghosts (Arizona Theatre); Long Island Sound (world premiere, TACT); Gypsy (Paper Mill); Radium Girls (Playwrights Theatre of N.J.); Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (Theatre IV); Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet (TheatreVirginia); and the title role in Ivanov (Jewish Rep); Malvolio in Twelfth Night (Porthouse). Film/TV: Love Hurts with Jeff Daniels; Law & Order; M*A*S*H; Kate & Allie; Tales from the Darkside; All My Children; As the World Turns.

Marty Lodge (Al Manners) returns to Arena and his hometown of Washington, where he was last seen in The Heidi Chronicles. Other Arena shows include M. Butterfly, Of Mice and Men, Streetcar and You Can't Take It with You, to name a few. He performed extensively in the D.C. area for 13 years at Shakespeare Theatre, Woolly Mammoth, Studio and over 30 shows at Round House Theatre, where he was an associate artist. On Broadway he stood by for Bill Pullman in Oleanna. Film and TV credits include Zodiac, Grey's Anatomy, Cold Case, Criminal Minds, Private Practice, Boston Legal, Numb3rs and The Gilmore Girls, among many others.

Garrett Neergaard (Eddie) is making his Arena Stage debut. He recently understudied on Broadway in the play Good People at Manhattan Theatre Club. Other notable New York credits include The Germ Project (New Georges), Apparition (Connelly Theater) and Spin Moves (SPF '04). He has also appeared regionally at Baltimore CenterStage (Trouble in Mind, The Matchmaker and Working It Out), Yale Rep (Trouble in Mind), Geva (House in Hydesville), Two Rivers (Wilbur in Charlotte's Web), Dorset Theatre Festival (Fallen Angels) and La Jolla Playhouse (Fraulein Else). Mr. Neergaard's film credits include Goldstar Ohio with Mercedes Ruehl, After You Left (Sundance 2011) and as Russel Henderson in The Laramie Project (HBO, Sundance 2002). Mr. Neergaard has also appeared on TV in NBC's Law and Order.

Laurence O'Dwyer (Sam) last appeared at Arena Stage in The Fantasticks (Helen Hayes Award). He is an associate artist at CenterStage, where he's been seen in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The Importance of Being Earnest, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, The Matchmaker, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Trouble in Mind and many others. Regional: Cherry Orchard, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Goodman); Trouble in Mind (Yale); Don Juan (Shakespeare); Don Juan, As You Like It (Old Globe); A Christmas Carol, Temptation (Dallas); Changes of Heart, Mirandolina, The Game of Love and Chance (McCarter); Changes of Heart (Berkeley); Changes of Heart (Taper); A Quarrel of Sparrows (Court, Drama-Logue Award). Former chair of Bennington College's drama dept. Awards: Baltimore Magazine's Best Actor in 2009 Best of Baltimore.

The Creative Team of Trouble in Mind also includes Set Designer David Korins, Costume Designer Catherine Zuber, Lighting Designers Rui Rita and Carl Faber, Sound Designer David Budries, Dramaturg Amrita Mangus, Casting Director Daniel Pruksarnukul, Associate Set Designer Rod Lemmond, Associate Costume Designer David Burdick, Associate Sound Designer Mike Skinner, Directing Fellow Melanie Farmer, Stage Manager Amber Dickerson and Assistant Stage Manager Kurt Hall.

Visit arenastage.org for more information.


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