"Trouble in Mind": Theater Review

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Through Sept. 26 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. $34-$55; 510-843-4822 or www.auroratheatre.org.

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Had she not refused to change its title and its ending, Alice Childress' Trouble in Mind, from 1955, would have been the first play by a black woman produced on Broadway. That might seem a bitter irony, given what it's about: an interracial theater company struggling to stage a white-liberal vision of progressivism during the first halting steps of the civil rights movement. More exactly, it's about one actress (Margo Hall) with the dubious opportunity to become the first black leading lady on Broadway. And so this urgent cultural critique has every right to toss humor and subtlety out the window; the great delight is that it doesn't. Emboldened by Robin Stanton's sensitive and only just barely strident direction, Hall and her eight castmates — Rhonnie Washington in particular — deliver a testimony of inequality that is not just devastating but also devastatingly funny. Childress didn't compromise, so Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun beat her to the history books, but as this production reminds us, Trouble in Mind was built to stand the test of time.

 
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