After a memorable and record-breaking inaugural year, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater celebrates its 61st anniversary season with Trouble in Mind, written by playwright Alice Childress. Childress was the first African-American woman to have her plays professionally produced in New York, and she became the first woman of color to win an Obie Award, in 1956 for Trouble in Mind (Best Original Production). Making her directorial debut with Arena Stage, Irene Lewis helms the comedy-drama in collaboration with many of the cast and crew from CenterStage's successful 2007 production, which was hailed by Variety as "bracingly prophetic" and "movingly effective."
E. Faye Butler (Arena's Oklahoma!, Crowns) leads the returning ensemble as Wiletta Mayer, along with Starla Benford as Millie Davis, Tony Award nominee Thomas Jefferson Byrd as Sheldon Forrester, Daren Kelly as Bill O'Wray, Garrett Neergaard as Eddie Fenton and Laurence O'Dwyer (Helen Hayes Award winner for Arena's The Fantasticks) as Henry. For Arena Stage's production they are joined by Brandon J. Dirden as John Nevins, Gretchen Hall as Judy Sears and Marty Lodge as Al Manners. Trouble in Mind runs from September 9 to October 23, 2011 in the Kreeger Theater.
In Trouble in Mind, battle lines are drawn within a newly integrated theater company preparing to open a misguided race play on the Great White Way in the 1950s. As personalities and prejudices collide, lead actress Wiletta Mayer has the chance to achieve her most glorious dream, but at what cost?
Though it was intended for Broadway after the success of its Off-Broadway run, Trouble in Mind's controversial themes made producers request rewrites-a situation ironically similar to what the characters in Trouble in Mind face. By standing her ground and not making the requested changes she sacrificed the opportunity to become the first African-American female playwright produced on Broadway. A Raisin in the Sun would later garner that distinction for Lorraine Hansberry in 1959.
"Theater is all about taking risks, and Alice Childress certainly took a risk in writing a piece like Trouble in Mind at such a turbulent point in our nation's history," says Arena Stage Managing Director Edgar Dobie. "Childress was ahead of her time, but the messages in the show are still just as meaningful today. We are excited to begin our season with this brilliant work by one of America's trailblazing playwrights."
"I am delighted that Molly has brought this groundbreaking play to Arena Stage," shares Director Irene Lewis. "This is a very special piece, and D.C. is a great place to do it."
Alice Childress (1916-94) (Playwright) Raised during the Harlem Renaissance under the watchful eye of her beloved maternal grandmother, Childress became first an actress then a playwright and novelist. A founding member of American Negro Theatre, she wrote her first play, Florence, in one night in 1949 on a dare from close friend Sidney Poitier, who told Alice he didn't think a great play could be written overnight. She proved him wrong, and the play was produced Off-Broadway in 1950. In 1952, she became the first African-American woman to see her play (Gold Through the Trees) professionally produced in New York. In 1955, her play Trouble in Mind was a critical and popular success from the beginning of its run Off-Broadway at Greenwich Mews Theatre. Trouble in Mind received a well-reviewed Off-Broadway revival in 1998 by Negro Ensemble Company and has since been produced by Yale Rep, CenterStage, and Milwaukee Rep. Childress is perhaps best known today for A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich, her 1973 novel about a 13-year-old black boy addicted to heroin, subsequently made into a movie in 1978. Her other plays include Just a Little Simple (1950), Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White (1966) and Gullah (1984). Throughout her career, she examined the true meaning of being black, and especially of being black and female. As she herself once said, "I concentrate on portraying have-nots in a have society."
Irene Lewis (Director) was artistic director of Baltimore's CenterStage for 20 seasons where she directed a wide range of material: musicals from Sweeney Todd to H.M.S. Pinafore; classic plays from Shakespeare and Chekhov to Schiller and Shaw; undervalued modern works like The Investigation to Trouble in Mind; and premieres by David Feldshuh, Motti Lerner, George Walker and Elizabeth Egloff. She also commissioned and produced works that went on to further life, including Intimate Apparel, Elmina's Kitchen, Police Boys and Thunder Knocking on the Door. Her productions earned many Best of Baltimore citations in the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Magazine and City Paper. Her proudest achievement at CenterStage was the racial diversification of her board, staff, repertory and, most importantly, the audience. Before coming to CenterStage, she was associate director of Hartford Stage Company, where she helmed an equally wide range of work. Her TV film Ives!, a play about Charles Ives commissioned by Hartford Symphony, won a PBS award. She has freelanced at many theaters around the country including Mark Taper, Berkeley Rep (her productions of The Misanthrope and Man and Superman being nominated for Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards), Williamstown Theatre Festival, Seattle Rep, Sundance Festival, Glimmerglass Opera Festival, Yale Rep and N.Y. Shakespeare Festival, as well as the National Theatre of Yugoslavia in Macedonia. She has degrees in theater from Hofstra Univ. and Yale School of Drama and has taught and directed at NYU, Cornell and Juilliard. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from McDaniel College in 2011.