Trouble in Mind – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Few people want to be characterized as a stereotype, locked in a box from which they can’t easily escape. Many stereotypes are, believe it or not, positive in nature, like a group of people known for their generosity or for their unique cooking talents or skills in dancing. Groups, however, can be labelled with negative generalities that harm them and soil their image in the world, and they often revolve around race, gender, religion, nationality or politics.

For Wiletta Mayer, who has been acting for a quarter century, she is type cast as a mammy or a maid, unable to break free of the stereotype because of the color of her skin. Now Heather Alicia Simms’ Wiletta has an exciting opportunity to be a lead actress in a new play, “ Chaos in Belleville,” opening on Broadway in the fall of 1957 under the direction of John Bambery’s Al Manners, a dictatorial and often verbally abusive commander who differs from Wiletta on how the play should be performed.

Come discover the atmosphere that swirls around this play within a play, Alice Childress’ “Trouble in Mind.” directed by Christopher D. Betts, at Hartford Stage until Sunday’s June 18. Every member of this bi-racial cast has a stake in how the differences between Wiletta and Al resolve, from Henry (Richmond Hoxie) the door man to Eddie (Adam Langdon) the show’s gofer, from the newcomer John (Sideeq Heard) to Millie (Chelsea Lee Williams) the fashionista in the cast, from Judy Sears (Sarah Lyddan) who fights for equity among the actors to Sheldon Forrester (Michael Rogers) the outspoken and loud cast member, to Bill O’Wray (James Joseph O’Neil) and his political speeches.

Will Wiletta, as a black actress who wants the same privileges as a white actress, succeed in using her honest and unafraid voice to successfully challenge the director? Watch how racism and sexism play a role in this poignant and funny and heartbreaking struggle to be heard and respected. Will Wiletta get a turn in the spotlight as a star, over the director’s vocal objections? Can she truly play the mother of a boy who is facing being lynched and speak to the dramatic moment with honesty? Her fight for dignity still echoes seventy years later.

For tickets ($30 and up), call Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at Performances are Tuesday to Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday and select Wednesdays at 2 p.m.

Come get swept up in this 1950’s landmark play that is still relevant today, maybe even more so than in the past. Watch and listen to a black woman who speaks from the heart seventy years ago in a voice that echoes today as she fights for her dignity.