Review: “Trouble in Mind” at TimeLine a powerful play about race in theater

The first play by a Black woman ever to make it to Broadway was “A Raisin in the Sun” by Chicago’s own Lorraine Hansberry in 1959. But in 1955, another Black woman, Alice Childress, almost made it to the Great White Way with “Trouble in Mind,” a backstage drama about a group of Black and white actors working together on a stereotypical commercial play.

The Broadway transfer never came. Nervous Broadway producers wanted Childress to tone down some of racially charged rhetoric, especially her pointed comments on what white audiences wanted to see from Black actors and characters. She refused. That was, after all, the whole point of her play, which you now can see in an intensely detailed and richly acted revival from director Ron OJ Parson at TimeLine Theatre.

“Trouble in Mind” might not soar with the poetry of “Raisin” (a very high bar), but it is a brilliantly incisive and emotional rich piece of writing, filled with characters suffering from what poet Langston Hughes famously referred to as “the dream deferred.”

Both of these roughly contemporaneous plays make the point that systemic racism dehumanizes everyone, both white and Black. I’ve long thought “Raisin” made it to Broadway because it was relatively easy for a liberal white audience to separate itself from the racist emissary of the white resident’s association: “We’re not like that,” the audience could tell itself. But “Trouble in Mind,” which was prescient and unstinting in its exploration of such issues as cultur