In this new podcast, Paul goes behind the curtain with the cast of Timeline’s Latest thought provoking production; “Trouble in Mind.” Here is his review of the show published at www.aroundthetownchicago.com:

5/5 stars….

 “Trouble in Mind,” by Alice Childress is troubling and difficult to watch. Not because it isn’t an amazing production with incredible performances, because that it is.

It is the raw nature of the subject matter and themes of the play that rips the band-aid off a less than pleasant time in our history, a time that sadly, resonates today. The play takes place on the stage of a Broadway theater in the heart of New York City in the mid-1950’s. What you may not realize is that the piece was actually written back in 1955 and while it experienced a critically acclaimed off-Broadway run in 1957, it didn’t make it to Broadway until 2021 at the American Airlines Theatre starring LaChanze (Color Purple). I’m guessing the subject matter and language were too uncomfortable for audiences back in the 1950s. It’s a dramedy, but perhaps more accurately described as a drama with comedic moments, sometimes quite uncomfortable comedic moments.

And now, six decades after it’s original production, most appropriately, it is  Timeline Theatre who has decided to bring audiences in to this powerful and thought provoking story.

The themes of the play address racism and sexism, but not in a look back from current day; no, they are a reflection of life at that time and those reflections are raw and unnerving, maybe even moreso as we watch today.

The play brings together a group of actors who arrive at the theater for their first day of rehearsal for a new play called “Chaos in Belleville, which we learn in time is an anti-lynching Southern story. But the star of this show (and indeed the star of the play within the play) is veteran actress Wiletta Mayer (magnificently played by Shariba Rivers) who as the play progresses, gets fed up with the racism and stereotyping that the play within the play requires her to perform. As a mother, she is not about to send her son off to turn himself into the law for something he did not do.  We watch as Wiletta transforms, indeed merges the seasoned actress we see in the opening the show to the woman underneath her character. We watch as Wiletta comes to realize that the demands and expectations put on these characters should not, indeed cannot, be portrayed anymore.

The show is directed by Ron OJ Parson who knows how to bring an audience along for the emotional ride as we feel the tensions experienced by Wiletta. The role of the play within the play, director Al Manners (forcefully portrayed by Tim Decker) is, quite candidly, a character that is very uncomfortable to watch; because to be honest, it is a performance that is all too believable, all too real. Most effectively, the intimate setting of the Timeline space leaves you no choice but to recoil at Manners’ easily sparked temper and racist words. At Timeline, we sit so close to the action, that we wish we could reach in to confront him. But we end up feeling like we are probably in the shoes of the stage doorman, Henry (sympathetically played by Charles Stransky)  who often relates that he too wants to and could throw a punch at Manners..well almost…but he just never does. This character seems minor in the scope of the play, but I think he represents more of us than we care to admit

The audience watches the play from two perspectives: the experience of these characters who struggle to make a living, even if it means portraying stereotyped roles that no African American should have been playing by the 1950’s; but we also watch from the viewpoint of the play-within-the play as characters seem forced to live a role and place in life that one would hope our country has moved well beyond.

The first act has most of the comedic moments. By the second act, we laugh less and find ourselves stunned as we watch Wiletta take on Manners, and to be sure, we root for her.

Over time, we learn some troubling experiences these actors have lived, especially one presented by Sheldon Forrester (deeply portrayed by Kenneth D. Johnson), but I think it best to let you see the show for yourself to learn what I’m referring to so you can feel the unnerving energy and the gasp-inducing moments. You will most certainly be discussing the play with those who watch with you as you leave the theater.

As Timeline always does, they find ways to immerse you in a moment of time, and in this show most realistically by signing a theater wall when you come in. You may not understand why when you do it, but you will soon become familiar with that long standing theater tradition. It’s as ingrained in theater life as the ghost light, which energizes every theater stage when no one is on it. And yes, that tradition lives in this show as well. Parsons hasn’t missed a thing to bring the audience into the realistic world of theater life.

Trouble in Mind is a tough play to watch, with language that is difficult to hear. But it is a story we must watch, with words we must hear, if we are ever to completely leave such an era behind us in our history. We aren’t there yet.  I believe that was the goal of playwright Alice Childress who was very demanding and controlling of how her play was performed, demands that also may explain why the production did not see life from 1957 until 2021. And, we owe her the respect of presenting her story as she expected, in fact demanded that it be told. Ms. Childress would be quite pleased.

Trouble in Mind runs thru December 18th and tickets may be purchased at: www.timelinetheatre.com or by calling the box office: 773-281-8463.

You can enjoy this interview by clicking on the link below. Or listening wherever you get your podcasts.