Tag: Tom Lally
Race, Art collide in emotionally charged play
|The Artistic Home presents|
|Trouble in Mind|
|Written Alice Childress
Directed by Vaun Monroe
at The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark (map)
through March 20 | tickets: $28 | more info
Reviewed by Keith Ecker
While watching the Artistic Home’s engaging production of Trouble in Mind, I couldn’t help but think of Spike Lee‘s 2000 satire “Bamboozled”. For those unfamiliar, the movie revolves around a black television writer who is frustrated with the depictions of African-Americans in entertainment. In an effort to sabotage his career and the network, he pitches the concept of a modern-day minstrel show to his colleagues. Rather than balk, they bite. Two inner-city black men are plucked from obscurity and shoved into the limelight to serve as the show’s stars. The sitcom is a hit, but not without ample psychic costs to those involved.
However, where “Bamboozled” is deficient in summarizing the Catch-22 that is financial success and artistic compromise, trailblazing playwright Alice Childress succinctly and effectively attacks the matter—nearly 50 years before Lee’s attempt.
Trouble in Mind takes place in 1957. A mixed cast is about to start rehearsals for what the business terms a "colored" play. We are introduced to the passionate, self-taught Wiletta Mayer (Velma Austin), a black actress who will be filling the role of the mother. John Nevins (Armand Fields), an educated but green actor, enters. Mayer gives him tips on how to act around white theater professionals. Her advice amounts to doing what you’re told, laughing at the appropriate times and, in general, acting pleasant. It’s information she will later regret.
The play is directed by a domineering no-nonsense white director named Al Manners (John Mossman). Al exhibits every stereotypical laughable trait attributed to his ilk. He uses flowery, overwrought language and overly intellectualizes the dramatic process. Meanwhile, the content of the play is chock full of dumbed-down racist conventions with characters written to be pitied. It’s the kind of piece that leaves the presumably white audience feeling morally superior to their racist white brethren. But despite the fact that they play such laughably unrealistic characters, the black actors go along with the script because, unfortunately, a part is a part.
Trouble arises when Wiletta’s character instructs her son, who is on the run from an angry white lynch mob, to surrender. Wiletta feels the action is disingenuous. Al is unmoved by her requests to reconsider the script. Instead, the two get into a heated argument that serves as the emotionally charged climax of the play.
The actors in this production give it their all. Austin fills her role with a great passion, turning up the ferocity as Wiletta’s frustration mounts. Meanwhile, Mossman is repulsive, yet sympathetic and even likeable, as the blindly driven director. The actors all appear exceptionally present in their roles, constantly emoting and reacting to the slightest action on stage.
One qualm I have – I do wish the performers would pause a bit more during some of the audience’s heartier laughs. It is very easy to miss a line or two of dialogue, much of which is so rich in content and humor that it’s a shame for it to go unheard. In addition, some might find the play tedious due to its lack of external action. Instead, the story arc audience’s are accustomed to is relegated to Wiletta’s internal struggle with her role.
The Artistic Home‘s Trouble in Mind is a solid production. Thespians and lay audiences alike will enjoy the self-deprecating nature of the play’s humor. But the larger takeaway is the message that when it comes to race and entertainment, rarely are issues black and white.
Featuring Guest Artist Velma Austin and Ensemble Member John Mossman; as well as Ensemble Members Frank Nall and Eustace Allen; and Guest Artists Kim Chelf, Armand Fields, Tom Lally, Cola Needham and Kelly Owens.
Director: Vaun Monroe
Assistant Director: A.J. Ware
Stage Manager: Loretta Rode
Assistant Stage Manager: Maggie Neumeyer
Dramaturg: Matt Ciavarella
Set Designer: Joseph Riley
Lighting Designer: Jess Harpenau
Costume Designer: Lynn Sandburg
Prop Designer: Lindsay Monahan
Sound Designer: Adam Smith
Playwright: Alice Childress
The Joy of Eccentricity
Redtwist Theatre presents:
Lettice and Lovage
reviewed by Paige Listerud
The Redtwist Theatre production of Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage is nothing but pure comic delight. Director Steve Scott keeps it simple and allows the talents of Millicent Hurley (Lettice) and Jan Ellen Graves (Lotte) to take flight. Starting out as opponents, Lettice and Lotte solidify their friendship over shared confessions of their philosophies and tastes. Hurley and Graves ground their characters in the fullness of flesh and blood, accenting their foils’ eccentricities without a hint of condescension. The result is a comedy whipped up to deceptively light and careless fun. Sterling and well-balanced performances by Jim Morley (Bardolph) and Maura Kidwell (Miss Framer) set the production like a little diamond in silver.
Charlotte “Lotte” Schoen, manager of tours conducted through Fustian House in Wiltshire, England, must sack Lettice Douffet for deviating from the official tour script. But Lettice, who believes her duty is “to enlarge, to enliven, to enlighten” her tourist audience, finds Fustian House “haunted by the ghost of Nothing Ever Happened” and since “fantasy floods in where fact leaves a vacuum,” feels free to embellish on family estate history. Though Lotte cannot allow Lettice to have free reign with the facts, she is drawn nevertheless into Lettice’s world and reveals passions one would never have thought possible in her staid, practical nature.
The light, quick precision of Hurley and Graves’ performances allows Shaffer’s comedy to be what it was intended: a little rebellion against the grayness of the modern world that champions the imagination against resigned acceptance to what is. Lettice and Lotte may indeed act like schoolgirls, but their childlike play sets the soul free from crushing convention. In laughing with, as well as at, their shenanigans the audience becomes their co-conspirators.
“Without danger, there is no theater,” says Lettice, a woman whose whole life confronts head on the fear of appearing ridiculous. But what is that compared with submitting to the absurdity of promoting an inedible cheese product at a supermarket for her living? Beneath Lettice’s brave eccentricities lies the incapacity to accept the gross absurdities of capitalist civilization; just as beneath Lotte’s practicality lies a radical revulsion against modern ugliness. Their blossoming friendship gives them the freedom to be themselves with each other and, who knows, perhaps create an alternative future. For a couple of hours, we get to steep in the light of their growing bond with each other and enjoy the freedom of their bloodless revolution.
|Stage Manager:||Shauna Warren|
|Scenic Design:||Jack Magaw|
|Light Design:||Christopher Burpee|
|Sound Design:||Christopher Kriz|
|Costume Design:||Erin Fast|
|Cast:||Jan Ellen Graves