‘Trouble in Mind’ falls short at opening

“Trouble in Mind” is a thought-provoking play that has all the right intentions, but it fell short of its potential during its opening performance on Oct. 28 at Northern Kentucky University’s Corbett Theatre.

The play focuses on a group of actors rehearsing for a play, called “Chaos in Belleville,” in which they have just been cast at a Broadway theater in 1957.
Wiletta Mayer, played by senior acting major Yunina Barbour-Payne, is the protagonist in “Chaos in Belleville.” Black actress Mayer and white director Al Manners butt heads throughout rehearsals in Act 1 and Act 2. Instead of pushing one opinion on the audience, the play invites its viewers to interpret for themselves who is right to be angry in the play: the director or the actress? Opposite to the director, Mayer evolves from a submissive actress in the first act to a strong, self-respecting black woman who stands by her convictions in the second act.

Racism and the struggle for true equality are active thematic components in the conflict between Mayer and Manners. Alice Childress, the playwright of “Trouble in Mind,” mashes humor and serious subject matter together to create a powerful satire.

“More than 40 years after it’s written, ‘Trouble in Mind’ by Alice Childress still has the power to make one feel its anger and humor,” said New York Times reporter D.J. Bruckner.

Some audience members may have a difficult time identifying Childress’ humor and power, as NKU’s production seemed to drag on.

The rest of the cast members played their roles well, but at times lacked in enthusiasm and overacted. A few players stood out, though. Junior performing arts student Travis Black plays Henry, an elderly theater doorman, and he was the main source what humor there was in the play.

“It was hard to understand the humor in the beginning,” said Channell McClure, a fine arts junior who attended the performance on opening night. “The second act was much better, though. [Barbour-Payne] did great and was powerful.”

The play was somewhat comical at times, and the backbone of enjoyment throughout the night was Barbour-Payne. Her performance of Mayer kept the play grounded. Her performance was believable, strong and powerful enough to develop the main themes.

“Payne did a great job and was just awesome,” junior Brittany Olvera-Vancini said. “She blew me away.”

Director Mark Hardy could have rewritten some lines to better deliver the kinds of humor that would relate to today’s audiences. The play has power, it just lacks effective humor. What lacked in the opening night performance, though, will come through in the following performances of “Trouble in the Mind.” The show runs until Nov. 6.