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The Daily Tar Heel

PlayMaker's "Trouble In Mind" explores racial issues through humor

PlayMaker's "Trouble In Mind"

Saturday, 7:30 p.m.


PlayMakers Repertory Company tactfully presented issues of both historical and contemporary relevance in a lighthearted yet compelling performance of Alice Childress' "Trouble In Mind." 

Despite central messages of racism and oppression presented by the show, Trouble in Mind's sarcastic humor kept the audience laughing steadily throughout its duration. 

However, a sense of tension manifested at several points during the show as audience members found themselves unsure of whether to laugh at certain jokes that touched on more offensive topics. This mix of tension and humor throughout the play effectively entertained the audience while also prompting them to consider certain concepts.

The characters in Trouble In Mind largely drove the sarcastic humor evident in the first act through their spot-on line delivery, especially those of Wiletta Mayer (Katherine Hunter-Williams) and Millie Davis (Suzette Azariah Gunn). Wiletta’s deeply sarcastic lines were furthered by her humorous facial expressions, while Millie’s sassy, acerbic tongue earned many chuckles from the crowd.

Another character of note was Sheldon Forrester, played by Roger Robinson, whose humor and amicable obliviousness made him a hit with the crowd. Robinson commanded the audience’s attention with his monologue in the second act, during which the lights dimmed, setting a somber mood and an audible hush from the crowd.

Despite several more solemn moments, the play’s second act welcomed more physical and exaggerated humor, verging on slapstick at some points. As the plot picked up steam, the characters presented hyperbolic stereotypes of African-Americans in a way which had the audience roaring, but also made them question why the material was so funny while feeling vaguely uncomfortable. 

During the second act the full message of racial oppression and degradation emerged, with every character effectively contributing to theme in their own way. The nine unique characters in Trouble In Mind all gave a different voice and attitude to the issues presented, and each was just as vivid and strong as the other. 

The technical design of the show was superb, helping to illustrate much of the play's intricacy. The exposed brick and 1950s-style lights of the Broadway theater’s backstage room served as the perfect backdrop for the dynamic characters and vibrantly colored costumes that filled it. Simultaneously, the simplicity and dim coloring of the set allowed the characters to shine and the play’s message to take center stage.

Although Trouble In Mind was written in the 1950s, its messages shine through as relevant in many ways today and can be examined with contemporary issues involving those facing oppression — whatever the context might be.

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