Alice Childress’ Moving and Witty Play, Trouble in Mind, Starring Theatre Blueblood, Thembi Mtshali-Jones with a Phenomenal Cast, comes to The Baxter Theatre in Cape Town

Alice Childress’

Alice Childress’ witty and thought-provoking play, Trouble in Mind, puts the spotlight on sexism, racism, identity and power, with celebrated actress Thembi Mtshali-Jones leading an outstanding cast, at the Baxter Flipside, from 14 May to 1 June 2024, at 7.30pm and Saturday matinees at 2pm.

Under the direction of the award-winning Mdu Kweyama, highly respected stage, film and television blueblood, Mtshali-Jones, heads up a formidable cast, featuring Antony Coleman (Expelled, Curse of the Starving Class), Royston Stoffels (Aunty Merle It’s a Girl, Hamlet), Nicky Rebelo (Scenes from An Execution, Aunty Merle It’s a Girl), Adrian Collins (Hamlet, Bench), Daniel Newton (Delela, Shadow Boxing) and Alyssa van Reenen (Mirre en Aalwyn, Drowning Diaries). Members of the Baxter’s Fires Burning company complete the ensemble comprising Lyle October, Awethu Hleli and Tamzin Williams who were all seen in Othello and Of Loss – Handle with Care.

Set in the 1950’s during rehearsals for an upcoming Broadway production, the ‘play-within-a-play’ comedy-drama follows the challenges and differences, faced by the group of multigenerational, black and white actors and their white, male director and stage manager. Racial politics and tensions collide, as backstage hypocrisy and prejudice unravels at the theatre. What unfolds is a moving, funny, yet penetrating look at the behind-the-scenes ‘goings-on’ in a dubious theatrical environment.

Mtshali-Jones plays Wiletta, a veteran actress who questions the politics of race in theatre and the content of the play in which lynching occurs – penned by a white playwright – who may not be well enough informed – on issues of this nature.

Fleur du Cap winner Mdu Kweyama (Reza de Wet’s Missing, Woza Albert, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?) tackles these issues head-on, highlighting the contrast between the characters’ public personas and their true feelings and frustrations. “The play had a troubled history when it was first produced, before finally getting the recognition and praise that it deserves albeit years later,” says director Kweyama. “For our production we remain true to the original script as was the wish of Alice Childress.”

When Trouble in Mind first opened off-Broadway in November 1955, it was a sweeping success which piqued the interests of producers who had intentions for a Broadway transfer. However, they insisted that some alterations be made to the ending in the script, so that it would be more appealing to audiences and for its commercial success. When Childress refused to compromise, the play never made it to Broadway until 66 years later, in 2021, when it was nominated for four Tony Awards, not winning any. This cost her the chance of being the first African American woman playwright to have a work on Broadway. She spent two years rewriting the ending to keep for the sake of the prosecution moving forward. A decision which she regretted and later she decided to go with her gut and conviction and stop rewriting Trouble in Mind. Is this not a case of art imitating life?

The critics responded positively, with The New York Times describing it as “a fresh, lively and cutting satire … Miss Childress has some witty and penetrating things to say … But it is all done with good humor.” They went on to call it a  “satire and a tragedy that deserves to be a classic.” Vulture called it a “masterpiece” and Wall Street Journal said, “Glorious to behold.”

Childress was the first black playwright to win an Obie Award. Over the course of her life, she received numerous accolades for her extensive contribution to the arts, including the Harlem School of the Arts Humanitarian Award in 1987. She died of cancer in New York City on August 14, 1994, leaving behind an unfinished novel about two of her great-grandmothers.

In 2019 her two short plays Florence and Wine in the Wilderness were staged at, and produced by The Baxter, directed by Nwabisa Plaatjes.

For Trouble in Mind, design is by Leopold Senekal, costumes by Leigh Bishop, lighting by Franky Steyn, with Sibusiso Victor Masondo as music supervisor and the assistant director is Nolufefe Ntshuntshe (also a member of the Baxter’s Fires Burning company).

It is made possible by the City of Cape, the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust and the National Arts Council.

The production runs at the Baxter Flipside for a limited season from 14 May to 1 June at 7.30pm with Saturday matinees at 2pm. Booking is through Webtickets online or at Pic n Pay stores. For discounted block bookings contact Mark Dobson on email or call him on 021 680 3972 or Carmen Kearns on email or telephone 021 680 3993.