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Trouble in Mind

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Alice Childress’ Trouble in Mind is an extraordinary play, a richly satirical backstage story that is both traditional and groundbreaking. The structure is very much a well-made play of the mid-1950’s, but the content feels as fresh as the current casting fracas surrounding the Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

Willetta (Earnestine Phillips) is a veteran African-American actress who arrives early for the first rehearsal of the new Broadway play, Chaos in Belleville. While she is less than enthusiastic about the script, she is thrilled to have a lead in a Broadway show. When John (Max Lawrence), a novice actor from her hometown, arrives and mentions issues with the play, she counsels him to smile and let the white director have his say on everything. She doesn’t believe you can ever trust a white person. Wiletta’s background and attitude suggest that Childress may have based the character on Ethel Waters.

Mille (Constance Jewell Lopez) and Sheldon (Gerald C. Rivers), two other veterans, arrive and also warn John to keep his opinions to himself. The reason becomes clear when their autocratic director, Al Manners (Mark Lewis), arrives and immediately sets to work testing the company.--not their talent, but their loyalty to him.

As rehearsals progress, John quickly learns to become an expert in playing the game. This makes it even stranger that it is Willetta who has a crisis of conscience about the ludicrous script they’re rehearsing. She grows increasingly uneasy about the unrealistic motivations of the tragic mother-character she portrays and moves from pointed questioning to open rebellion. This initiates a showdown in which Manners’ ever-so-politely internalized racism is revealed.

Ellen Geer has assembled a gifted cast, and her direction allows us to savor its unique personalities, particularly in the early, more blatantly, comic scenes. Geer obviously understands and respects Childress’ language, guiding the performances with an unhurried grace.

Willetta is the heart of the production, and Phillips uses all of her prodigious skills to bring this character to powerful life. Racism is hardly Manners’ only failing, and Lewis pulls no punches in realizing each of the man’s cruel and condescending faults. Rivers nicely underplays Sheldon's comedy scenes, but is also given the gift of the most affecting moment in the show when he recalls a lynching he witnessed.

While Childress has not exactly been forgotten, revivals of her plays are relatively rare. We must, therefore, be thankful to Ellen Geer and Theatricum for mounting this important and resonant production.

Theatricum Botanicum    July 29 – September 3, 2017



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.