You must have patience with Moxie Theatre’s production of Alice Childress’ Trouble in Mind, directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg. If you do, you will be rewarded. Childress’ 1955 play about how ingrained racism was in the American theater is getting renewed attention, and deservedly so. But its first act, occupied with a tense rehearsal of a flawed play called Chaos in Belleville, is full of fits and starts while half the cast sits at a table, observing. As a result, it’s low on energy, even with the sparkling Cashae Monya (so memorable in Moxie’s Crumbs from the Table of Joy last year) in a standout supporting role.
Then comes the second act. Emotions that had been simmering before intermission come mightily to the fore. The war of wills between veteran black actress Wiletta Mayer (Monique Gaffney) and the pompous white director Al Manners (Ruff Yeager) is front and center, with the exclusionary treatment of African-Americans in the theater world their battleground. No easy answer is proffered. Childress famously refused to give her play a “happy ending.” Still, self-respect wins out, and that’s a victory worth witnessing.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.