Characters Discussed

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Wiletta Mayer

Wiletta Mayer, a veteran actor beginning rehearsals of a play. She is an attractive, middle-aged African American woman with an outgoing personality. She made a career out of playing stereotypical black roles but aspires to be cast in parts more deserving of her rich talents. Initially, she readily gives advice to John Nevins, a novice actor, on how to ingratiate oneself, to stay on good terms with the management no matter how loathsome the production may be. When rehearsals begin, however, she cannot adhere to such a strategy. Her white director uses tactics that humiliate her, and the script calls for the black characters to make statements and perform actions that offend her racial pride. Con-sequently, Wiletta becomes an outspoken critic of the production.

Al Manners

Al Manners, a theatrical director in his early forties, working on his first Broadway show. He is an energetic, confident man with a patronizing manner. He unknowingly triggers Wiletta’s critical evaluation of the production by demanding that she find a sense of integrity about her work. Although he considers himself to be a liberal, he treats black and white cast members differently and is insensitive to the objections the black members have concerning the script. As the racial strife becomes more intense, he exposes his own deep-rooted racial biases.

John Nevins

John Nevins, a novice actor. He is an African American college graduate aspiring to rise to the top of his profession. Although he believes his formal training and performances in Off-Broadway plays to be superior to Wiletta’s experience, he condescendingly listens to her advice out of deference to her age and her acquaintance with his mother. As the conflict between Wiletta and the director heightens, he becomes embarrassed by her, viewing her as too racially sensitive and ignorant of contemporary acting methods. Aligning himself with the director and the white cast members, he attempts to appease Wiletta without fully considering the validity of her complaints.

Millie Davis

Millie Davis, a veteran actor. She is a well-dressed thirty-five-year-old African American woman. Like Wiletta, she has spent her career performing black stock characters, and she readily voices her dissatisfaction concerning dialogue and actions that demean black people. Unlike Wiletta, she stops short of pursuing her objections with the director even when he chooses to ignore her opinions or provides a patronizing response. She is willing to sacrifice her dignity for the job she needs.

Sheldon Forrester

Sheldon Forrester, a veteran actor. An elderly, poorly educated black man, he embodies the Uncle Tom stereotype. He fawns on the director and criticizes Wiletta for disrupting rehearsals with her racial complaints. He has held such an obsequious posture for so long that he is numb to the indignities he and other African Americans suffer in the profession. He may be more than he appears; he may be only playing a role that pleases white people as a means of survival.

Judith (Judy) Sears

Judith (Judy) Sears, a novice actor. She is a young, energetic white woman of a privileged background. Thrilled to be in her first professional production since her training at Yale, she is eager to please the director. A liberal, she becomes uncomfortable with some of her dialogue, which uses offensive terms in reference to African Americans. She befriends John, to the dismay of the director and several black cast members.

Bill O’Wray

Bill O’Wray, an old white character actor, the only cast member who has steady work. He insists that he is not prejudiced but is reluctant to have lunch with the black actors. At best he is insensitive, and at worst he...

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is a bigot.


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Millie Davis Millie is a thirty-five-year-old African-American actress. She is married and says she does not need to work. She displays more wealth than the other African-American characters; she wears a mink coat and an expensive watch. Like Wiletta, she is conscious of how she acts and what she says around whites, and she tries to guide John’s behavior. Millie also does not like the kind of roles she must play because of her race. She says at one point that she did not tell her relatives about the last production because she repeated but one stereotypical line over and over again. Though Millie expresses her objections about a couple of things, she is not willing to put her job on the line for such matters.

Sheldon Forrester Sheldon is an elderly African-American character actor and aspiring songwriter. Like Millie and Wiletta, he is conscious about how he acts and what he says around the white people involved in the production. He also tries to advise John about his interactions with whites, especially Judy. Sheldon, more than Millie and Wiletta, wants everyone to get along and not fight amongst themselves. But he also questions certain aspects of Chaos in Belleville in a non-confrontational manner. Sheldon is the only character to have really seen a lynching, a central event in the play. When Wiletta speaks out, Sheldon is only somewhat supportive of her.

Henry Of Irish descent, Henry is the 78-year-old doorman at the theater where the rehearsals are taking place. Henry knows Wiletta from when he worked as an electrician at shows, and obviously admires her talent. He has hearing problems, which lead to a misunderstanding with Manners, but Henry always tries to fix problems. Henry is fully supportive of Wiletta at the end of each act when she tries to deal with her situation. He relates the oppression of the Irish by the English to Wiletta’s dilemmas. Henry is Wiletta’s only consistent ally.

Al Manners Manners, who is white, is the director of Chaos in Belleville. He wants to remain in control of the production at all times, but he is callous toward the feelings and beliefs of all the actors, especially Wiletta. Manners’s self-assuredness is shaken several times, until he finally bursts out in anger when Wiletta compares herself to him. Though Manners will probably continue to direct the production, he has lost the trust of those who work for him.

Wiletta Mayer Wiletta is the central character in Trouble in Mind. She is a middle-aged African-American actress, and she plays the lead in the play, Chaos in Belleville. Wiletta was a singer at one time in her career, and Henry, the doorman, knows her from a production he worked on 20 years earlier; Wiletta also appeared in a movie directed by Manners some time ago. Though Wiletta loves acting, she knows that whites, especially directors and producers, have certain expectations of blacks as actors. She tries to advise John at the beginning of the play on how best to get along, though he does not really want to believe her. By the middle of Trouble in Mind, Wiletta has not taken her own advice. She speaks out against what she perceives as racist problems with the script, and later, the director’s demeaning attitude towards her. Wiletta realizes that she has lost her job by her actions at the end of the play. However, these actions lead to the revelation that Manners is racist, despite his claims to the contrary.

John Nevins John is an idealistic young African-American actor, making his Broadway debut in Chaos in Belleville. Though he and Wiletta come from the same hometown, Newport News, Virginia, John is more educated than Wiletta, and usually feels superior to her. He does not like most of the advice she gives him about how to act around whites in show business, though the other, more experienced black actors echo what Wiletta has said. John seems somewhat attracted to Judy, and the other African- American actors try to keep them separated. Instead of listening to the counsel of his elders, by Act II, John is imitating Manners in speech and mannerisms. However, when Manners reveals that he does not think of blacks and whites as comparable, John realizes the error of his ways and supports Wiletta.

Bill O’Wray Bill is a middle-aged white actor. He is perpetually worried when he is not acting, but delivers his lines in the play with power. Bill does not want to lunch with the African-American actors because he says the stares they draw makes it hard for him to eat. Bill says several additional things that could be interpreted as racist and is defensive about his actions.

Judy Sears Judy is a young white actress. Though she is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, she is naive, and Chaos in Belleville is her first job. Judy often speaks lovingly of her mother and father, who live in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and invites the whole cast to visit them there. She believes doing this play will be educational and hopes that it will help ease racism, but she also is conscious of how her character seems smug. When the African-American actors feel resentment and anger, Judy tries to be supportive, but she feels as though they are lashing out at her personally. A sensitive woman, Judy espouses the belief that people are all the same and that racism is wrong.




Critical Essays