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"Trouble in Mind" gives perspective on racial prejudice

PlayMakers Repertory Company will address heavy issues in a light-hearted manner as they invite audiences to step behind-the-scenes of a 1957 Broadway production.

The company is performing “Trouble in Mind” through February 8 at the Paul Greene Theatre, with show times Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. as well as Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

“Trouble In Mind” tells the story of a play-within-a-play in which actress Wiletta Mayer must choose between her morals and her dream role in a Broadway play about an interracial couple. Through the play she struggles with standing up for her beliefs, as well as against those of her white, male director.

The story touches on many social issues, most notably that of racial prejudice. Although the production was written in 1955, lighting director Kathy Perkins said its subject matter remains relevant today, especially in regard to African-American actors in the drama industry.

“I’ve heard so many actors say that they didn’t want to do a role because they didn’t feel it was an accurate portrayal of black people, or it might have been stereotypes of them, but in six months they’ll get a paycheck,” she said. “That dilemma is still with us today; this piece is so right on, it’s so timely.”

Perkins knew Trouble In Mind’s playwright Alice Childress personally and has written an anthology on several of her other works. Perkins said Childress’ personality is evident in the character of Wiletta Mayer.

“She had such integrity,” Perkins said. “She was just not willing to compromise her work for money.”

Kathryn Hunter-Williams, PRC resident who plays Wiletta, said audience members would find the play to be very accessible.

“Everyone will be able to relate with a character,” she said.

Although “Trouble In Mind” addresses several serious issues, PRC member and actor who plays Al Manners, Schuyler Mastain, said the audience should not forget to laugh.

“One thing that they should be aware of is that it’s humorous, there is a light-hearted touch to it, and that it is fun,” Mastain said. “But it’s poignant-- it gets to a very important point, especially considering the social makeup of what’s going on these days.”

Williams said the relatable nature of the play’s nine characters allows it to serve as an inclusive mechanism for various perspectives to converge.

“It’s like a prism that lets you look at it from nine different angles,” Williams said, “and that’s the only way to have a dialogue about an issue.”

Mastain said the audience might be uncomfortable when presented with the play's issues, but stressed the importance of maintaining an open mind.

“It will strike a resonant chord as it's being honest and truthful, and I think that it will portray some stereotypes that have existed for the sake of exposing them,” Mastain said. “But it also is going to jar people’s conceptions of race stereotypes."

"I think the important thing for people to do is to sit and breathe through it and be open-- simply be open to the experience.”

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