The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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SMU Theatre presents Childress’ ‘Trouble in Mind’

Over 50 years after the original production of “Trouble in Mind,” the SMU theatre department opened its production of the play last night.

“Trouble in Mind,” a play featuring an African-American actress stuck in stereotypical roles, was written by playwright, novelist and actress Alice Childress and premiered in 1955, years before the start of the civil rights or the women’s movements.

The off-Broadway hit that raised questions of racial issues in America won Childress an Obie Award, making her the first African-American female recipient of the award.

As the play took off and news for a move to Broadway was announced, producers asked Childress to brighten its ending. When Childress refused and other problems arose between her and staff members, the move to Broadway was cancelled. This was ironic, considering the play was about a production of a play, “Chaos in Belleville,” filled with behind-the-scenes racial tensions.

“Trouble in Mind” steps into the lives of African-American actress Wiletta Mayer and new actor John Nevins, who meet on a New York stage for rehearsals of a play. The older Wiletta feels the need to give John advice to successfully get through the production, directed by Al Manners, a white director. “Laugh at everything they say,” she says. “White folks can’t stand unhappy Negroes, so laugh.”

The play continues with issues faced by many African-American actors of the time.

Childress, who is known for writing several controversial yet moving pieces of literature, describes her writing as trying to “portray the have-nots in a have society.”

As John O. Killens, author of the essay “The Literary Genius of Alice Childress,” says, “In [‘Trouble in Mind’], Childress demonstrated a talent and ability to write humor that had social impact.”

The SMU production of the play, directed by Meadows Distinguished Artist-in-Residence Stan Wojewodski, will run through Sunday. After the final performance, a panel will discuss

the status of African-American theater in the United States. Panelists will include Clarence Gilyard, SMU M.F.A. ’06, known for his movie and TV roles in “Die Hard,” “Matlock,” “Walker, Texas Ranger” and as a theater faculty member at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas; Barbara Hill-Moore, professor of voice at SMU; Ed Smith, artistic director of Jubilee Theatre of Fort Worth, and Vicki Washington, Dallas-based actress and teacher.

Performance times are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $13 for adults, $10 for seniors and $7 for SMU students, faculty and staff. “Trouble in Mind” will be performed in the Greer Garson Theatre in the Owens Arts Center.

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