At the Stoner Theater March 31 - April 9, 2023 Alice Childress is a National Book Award and Pulitzer nominated novelist, whose 1973 A Hero Ain’t Nothing But A Sandwich was made into a feature film. But in recent years her playwriting has been receiving long overdue acclaim. Childress was an also actor, director, activist and board member of the American Negro Theatre.
Childress’s acting was acclaimed by Sidney Poitier and others, but she was Black and therefore not considered for white roles, while her lighter skin left did not match the casting idea of Black characters. Soya Diggs Colbert writes in The Washington Post “This reality taught Childress about the costs of making theater and inspired her to write Trouble in Mind with an eye toward showcasing the racism in the theater.”
And showcase she did. Trouble In Mind, directed by Childress and Clarice Taylor (who also played Wiletta) opened at the Greenwich Mews Theatre in 1955, the same year that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and that Emmett Till was murdered. The story of a cast of Black actors dealing with a white director/producer and a white-written anti-lynching story was well-received, and a Broadway transfer was discussed. But ironically, behind the scenes of this story of Black artists being pressured into inauthenticity by a white production team, Childress was pressured to provide a happy ending of reconciliation.
Childress struggled with these demands and the white producers until, she said later, “I couldn’t recognize the play one way or the other.” After two years, she called a halt to the revisions, and returned to the original ending. It was that ending that was published, and forms the basis for the show tonight.
Trouble In Mind would not become the first play by a Black woman on Broadway; that would fall to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. Childress’s Broadway debut would be posthumous, in 2021, after the re-opening from the COVID pandemic. Wonderfully, sadly, this lost classic of the American theater speaks as sharply, funnily and passionately to our 21st century world as it did to 1955 America. We are excited and proud to bring the Iowa premiere of Trouble In Mind to you.