Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 668
Trouble in Mind opens inside the entrance of a Broadway theater in New York City. Wiletta Mayer, a middle-aged, African-American actress, bangs on the door and finally lets herself in. She scolds the elderly doorman, Henry, for not letting her in out of the cold, until she sees the stage. While she is enraptured by the sight of the theater, Henry recognizes her from when he was an electrician on a show twenty years ago. When Henry leaves, John Nevins, a young African-American actor, enters. He tries to hide his nervousness. In talking to him, Wiletta realizes that they come from the same place and that she knows his parents. Wiletta gives him career advice about how black people are perceived by white directors and others who run the show. She tells him that he should lie and say he was in the last revival of Porgy and Bess, even though it is untrue. John is skeptical of her counsel.
Millie, another African-American actress, enters. Soon, a young white actress, Judith Sears, and an elderly African-American actor, Sheldon Forrestor, join the conversation. John tries to approach Judy several times, but the other actors prevent him, talking about this play and previous productions they have been in. Judy reveals that this is her first play, and she hopes it will educate their audience. The other actors do not disagree outright. Their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of the play’s director, Manners, his assistant, Eddie, and Henry. After greetings are exchanged, Manners shows them the sketches for the production’s scenic design. He compliments each member of the cast, especially Wiletta, who worked on a movie with him some time ago.
Manners tells the cast about the play and how the production came to be. He say that it is ahead of its time in its depiction of race. The cast has questions about their parts, but Manners insists that they read a scene in the middle of act one. Judy gets up to read, but she is nervous and forgets where downstage is. Manners yells at her. Manners tries to make Wiletta act naturally, but it comes off wrong, and he seems racist. Wiletta becomes very cautious around him. The cast continues with the read. The black actors question words and situations they object to. Manners tries to smooth things over, but does not concede such things are objectional. He has them read from the beginning of act one.
Henry shows up with coffee and doughnuts. Manners becomes angry when Henry does not bring him the proper pastry. His anger and condescending attitude increase when Eddie informs Manners that his ex-wife is on the phone. Manners takes the call while Wiletta tries to make Eddie more comfortable. Judy invites the cast to visit her family’s home in Bridgeport. Wiletta and Millie tell her she better ask them before she makes such an invitation because they might not want them there.
Manners turns the conversation to the script. He asks the cast to explain to him what is going on. When they do, he has Wiletta sing the song at the end of act one. She knows the song and performs it well. Manners demands to know what she is thinking about. She tells him that she knows what he wants, but he is not satisfied with this answer. Manners makes her play a word association game that makes Wiletta uncomfortable. Manners leads Judy offstage to take about her role. Immediately, the black cast members tell John to not get too close to Judy. While talking about racial topics, they say accusatory things to each other. John, Sheldon, and Millie leave, and Wiletta is left alone. Henry comes in and tries to comfort her. He is still mad about what Manners did to him earlier. As Henry talks about Ireland and the problems there, he grows incresingly indignant. Wiletta shares his anger. She says she will be an actress no matter what is thrown in her path.
(The entire section contains 1408 words.)
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