I’ve been to a great many plays on race. Some, like August Wilson’s Jitney, manage to survive through the ages and provide a stunningly timeless view on the problems of the colorline.
Others, like David Mamet’s Race or Neil Labute’s This Is How It Goes, make me realize how much of an abstract concept racism’s pervasiveness can be for white people. Unfortunately, much of the mainstream art world is controlled by white people, and therefore what is considered worthy of production is shaped by white perceptions.
Trouble in Mind has been resurrected, but there are always complications. Over at the Arena Stage website, Irene Lewis speaks to the cause of the persistent racial gap in evaluation of material:
For years, the play Trouble in Mind, by African-American playwright Alice Childress, was recommended to me as a show that, as artistic director of CENTERSTAGE, I should produce. I had read the play several times over the years and found it to be “old-fashioned/old hat,” especially concerning the depiction of the character of the white director. Finally, I decided to ask the opinion of an African-American actress whose judgment I have always valued. She read the play and told me that she liked it. When I asked if she found the role of the white director dated and unbelievable, she said, “No.” So I came around to the opinion that this was another case of – what should I call it – whites (me) being “out of touch” with the experiences of African-Americans. I decided to produce and direct the play at CENTERSTAGE in Baltimore. It subsequently transferred to Yale Repertory Theater. I am delighted that Molly is bringing this groundbreaking piece to Arena Stage.
“Out of touch” is the last term I would use to describe Childress’ noted work, considering it was originally performed in 1955. Considering the play was created more than five decades ago, it should not be so fresh and contemporary. And yet, we live in an era in which a white woman’s tale about a white woman and the black maids she liberated swept the bestseller’s list and the box office – clearly, things haven’t changed that much. So why the disconnect between black and white theater aficionados? As Childress herself has stated:
“There aren’t any black critics who can close a white play. But in black theater, black experience has been fought against by white critics. The white critic feels no obligation to prepare himself to judge a black play.”
And so, here we are. Continue reading