Plot Summary from https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/trouble-mind#B
Trouble in Mind opens inside the entrance of a Broadway theater in New York City. Wiletta Mayer, a middle-aged, African-American actress, bangs on the door and finally lets herself in. She scolds the elderly doorman, Henry, for not letting her in out of the cold, until she sees the stage. While she is enraptured by the sight of the theater, Henry recognizes her from when he was an electrician on a show twenty years ago. When Henry leaves, John Nevins, a young African-American actor, enters. He tries to hide his nervousness. In talking to him, Wiletta realizes that they come from the same place and that she knows his parents. Wiletta gives him career advice about how black people are perceived by white directors and others who run the show. She tells him that he should lie and say he was in the last revival oiPorgy and Bess, even though it is untrue. John is skeptical of her counsel.
Millie, another African-American actress, enters. Soon, a young white actress, Judith Sears, and an elderly African-American actor, Sheldon Forrestor, join the conversation. John tries to approach Judy several times, but the other actors prevent him, talking about this play and previous productions they have been in. Judy reveals that this is her first play, and she hopes it will educate their audience. The other actors do not disagree outright. Their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of the play’s director, Manners, his assistant, Eddie, and Henry. After greetings are exchanged, Manners shows them the sketches for the production’s scenic design. He compliments each member of the cast, especially Wiletta, who worked on a movie with him some time ago.
Manners tells the cast about the play and how the production came to be. He say that it is ahead of its time in its depiction of race. The cast has questions about their parts, but Manners insists that they read a scene in the middle of act one. Judy gets up to read, but she is nervous and forgets where downstage is. Manners yells at her. Manners tries to make Wiletta act naturally, but it comes off wrong, and he seems racist. Wiletta becomes very cautious around him. The cast continues with the read. The black actors question words and situations they object to. Manners tries to smooth things over, but does not concede such things are objectional. He has them read from the beginning of act one.
Henry shows up with coffee and doughnuts. Manners becomes angry when Henry does not bring him the proper pastry. His anger and condescending attitude increase when Eddie informs Manners that his ex-wife is on the phone. Manners takes the call while Wiletta tries to make Eddie more comfortable. Judy invites the cast to visit her family’s home in Bridgeport. Wiletta and Millie tell her she better ask them before she makes such an invitation because they might not want them there.
Manners turns the conversation to the script. He asks the cast to explain to him what is going on. When they do, he has Wiletta sing the song at the end of act one. She knows the song and performs it well. Manners demands to know what she is thinking about. She tells him that she knows what he wants, but he is not satisfied with this answer. Manners makes her play a word association game that makes Wiletta uncomfortable. Manners leads Judy offstage to take about her role. Immediately, the black cast members tell John to not get too close to Judy. While talking about racial topics, they say accusatory things to each other. John, Sheldon, and Millie leave, and Wiletta is left alone. Henry comes in and tries to comfort her. He is still mad about what Manners did to him earlier. As Henry talks about Ireland and the problems there, he grows incresingly indignant. Wiletta shares his anger. She says she will be an actress no matter what is thrown in her path.
Three mornings later, Manners and Eddie are rehearsing with a new addition, white actor Bill O’Wray. O’Wray plays Renard, the father figure in the play, and is passionately reading a long-winded speech from the play. When he is done, Bill seems unsure of himself. Bill offers suggestions to Manners about the play. Manners goes on about his personal problems, then asks a favor of Bill. He tells Bill to stop leaving at lunch hour because it looks like he does not want to eat with the black members of the cast. Bill tells Manners that he does not want to eat with them, not because he is prejudice, but because he does not want people to stare at him.
Wiletta enters. She tries to tell Manners about problems she has with the script. Manners is dismissive of her concerns. He compliments her every time she tries to say something. Wiletta finally gets out that she thinks the third act might not seem a natural outcome after the first, but Manners tells her not to think. When the rest of the cast joins them, Judy looks more sophisticated and John acts more like Manners. Manners starts rehearsal at the beginning of act three. Wiletta has a hard time focusing on her lines. The play soon reaches a dramatic climax, as John’s character goes out to be lynched and Wiletta’s character lets him go. Manners acts like the consummate director.
When they reach the end of the scene, Sheldon reveals that he has not read the whole play, just the parts that he is in. Manners fills him in on the ending. He also compliments all the actors on their work, except Wiletta. Manners asks her if she will let him help her. Wiletta tells him that he will not listen to her suggestions, though he does pay attention to the others’ thoughts. Manners explains that she must lose herself in the part by relating, but Wiletta does not understand why Job, John’s character, does not get away. John tries to intercede, but he acts just like Manners. Manners will not listen to Wiletta, and the cast falls into a bit of infighting.
Manners attempts to control his cast. He asks them to imagine a lynching. He is surprised when Sheldon says that he has seen one. Sheldon relates the story. Manners and Bill are affected by the story, and the former calls for lunch. The cast decides to go together. Wiletta still tries to make her point about the script, but Manners dismisses her concerns again. Some of the cast leaves, and Wiletta says she will catch up them later.
Lights flicker to indicate the passage of time, and when the lights come up again, the stage is empty. The cast, save Wiletta, enters. To one side, Manners and Eddie chide Bill for making what could be seen as a racist joke. Wiletta arrives just as Manners begins rehearsal. She tells him she wants to talk to him after rehearsal, but Manners is noncommittal. They begin to read act three. Wiletta ignores Manners’s order to keep John on his knees. She challenges Manners about the play: she does not believe her character would send her son out to a lynch mob. Though others try to silence her, she asks Manners if he would do it to his son. He ignores the question and justifies his position. Wiletta accuses him of prejudice and keeps trying to ask him her question. Manners finally answers her in an angry outburst. He says that he and his son could not be compared to her and John’s character.
Manners and Eddie quickly leave, and the cast is in disarray. The cast is both accusatory and supportive of what Wiletta said. Sheldon is on her side, but he tells her to apologize to in an effort to keep their jobs. Wiletta is firm in her conviction that the play is a lie. Judy and Bill are resentful of what the black actors say about whites. Finally, Eddie comes in and informs that rehearsal is over. He will call them about tomorrow’s rehearsal. The cast, except Wiletta, leave. Henry sees that Wiletta is upset and tries to calm her. She says that she will show up at rehearsal tomorrow, no matter what, so that Manners has to fire her in person. At Henry’s urging, she recites something on stage: Psalm 133.
Alice Childress, playwright, novelist, actor, and screenwriter, was born Alice Herndon in Charleston, South Carolina. Her parents separated in 1925 and Childress moved to the Harlem, New York home of her grandmother Eliza Campbell White, who encouraged her to write and exposed her to the arts. Leaving high school after only two years, Childress worked low-paying jobs while becoming involved in the Harlem theatre scene. In the 1930s, she married and divorced Alvin Childress, an actor, and they had a daughter, Jean R. Childress. Childress married musician Nathan Woodard in 1957.
In 1941, she joined Harlem’s American Negro Theatre (ANT) where she worked as an actress, stage director, personnel director, and costume designer for 11 years. While at ANT, she fought for union off-Broadway contracts that would assure advanced pay for actors. A respected performer, Childress appeared in a variety of New York productions, including Natural Man (1941), Rain (1948), and The Emperor’s Clothes (1953). Anna Lucasta (1944) transferred to Broadway and earned Childress a Tony Award nomination.
In 1949, she wrote her first play, Florence. This early play reflects many themes that would characterize Childress’s later writings, including black female empowerment, interracial politics, working-class life, and attacks on black stereotypes. With the Off-Broadway union performances of Just a Little Simple (1950) and Gold through the Trees (1952), Childress became the first professionally produced black female playwright. At the end of the 1955-1956 Off-Broadway season, Trouble in Mind won an Obie Award for Best Original Play, making Childress the first black woman to be awarded the honor. By the end of her career, she had written over a dozen plays.
One of her most famous works, A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich (1973) helped launch her career as a young adult novelist. The novel confronts difficult social issues, such as racism, drug use, teen pregnancy, and homosexuality. She adapted her novel into a screenplay in 1978. Childress wrote two other young adult novels as well as an adult novel and collection of short stories.
Occasionally, her writings on black culture and interracial relations caused controversy. Some networks refused to televise a 1969 production of Wine in the Wilderness and the Public Theatre’s 1973 production of Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White. Some school districts and libraries banned A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich after it was released.
Before her death in 1994, Childress received various awards and grants, including a Rockefeller grant, a graduate medal from the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, the Radcliffe Alumnae Graduate Society Medal for Distinguished Achievement, and a Lifetime Career Achievement Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE).
Tiffany Gilly (she/her) is doing what she can to be an advocate and ally to Black Artists and People of Color through her art. She is an actor who seeks to support theatre and stories by BIPOC Playwrights. She started this play-reading group in the summer of 2020 in response to the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the Black Lives Matter Movement to increase the knowledge of plays by non-White Playwrights as a starting point or a stepping stone for other artists.