Trouble in Mind, a Landmark Play About Racism in Theater, Is Finally Heading to Broadway

Alice Childress Photo: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

With the fall of 2020 all but officially canceled on Broadway due to the continued threat of coronavirus, most productions have started to move to the spring of next year. The Roundabout Theatre has joined in the crowd, announcing that it will postpone much of its canceled spring season, including a much-anticipated Broadway revival of Caroline, or Change starring Sharon D. Clarke, back to spring 2021, after originally pushing some productions to this fall.

But in addition to moving around its production schedules, Roundabout has made the rare decision to announce plans for a new production: The Broadway debut of Alice Childress’s Trouble in Mind, to be directed by Charles Randolph-Wright and to premiere in winter 2021–2022. Childress was the first Black woman to have a play produced with a professional Equity cast in New York (in 1952 for Gold Through Trees) and though records aren’t conclusive, is often credited as the first to win an Obie Award for Trouble in Mind in 1956. The comic drama is set among the backstage disagreements on a Broadway production that’s sure to solve racism, at least according to its white director, while centering the story on a middle-aged Black actress trying to keep up with it all. Trouble in Mind has had several regional productions recently, alongside a renewed appreciation for Childress, but never made it to Broadway: The planned 1957 run was scuttled, ironically, thanks to meddling producers. Roundabout’s decision to bring the play to Broadway, and to announce the run so far in advance, seems, in large part, a response to the recent outpouring of frustration and pain from Black theater workers sharing their racist experiences in the industry and pressing for meaningful change in the kind of work produced. It’s not the highest bar to clear, given that many of the other Broadway productions that now plan to debut in 2021 (including Plaza Suite, The Music Man, The Minutes, and Flying Over Sunset) are predominantly white, and only one (the Michael Jackson musical MJ, written by Lynn Nottage) is written by a person of color.

For now, Broadway remains officially closed until Labor Day due to the pandemic, though most within the industry expect the shutdown in New York to last at least until early January 2021. That leaves producers making hedged statements about future plans. Roundabout, for one, is focusing on next spring. The nonprofit also plans to bring back its COVID-affected productions of …what the end will be by Jiréh Breon Holder and Exception to the Rule by Dave Harris off Broadway next spring, and to stage Birthday Candles with Debra Messing on Broadway next fall. Finally, the theater company is still planning to bring director Diane Paulus’s gender-inclusive production of 1776 to Broadway in the spring.

Off Broadway, things remain similarly in doubt, though some theater companies have started to get creative. New York Theatre Workshop announced today that it plans to adapt to the uncertainty of the moment by providing grants to a group of “Artistic Instigators” to develop work that will be presented in various forms through its developmental process. “Some events will be exclusively virtual experiences while others may take place in person,” according to a NYTW statement, “when it is possible to do so with appropriate safety measures.” The theater plans on bringing its productions of Martyna Majok’s Sanctuary City, canceled this spring soon after it started performances, and its all-star Three Sisters, which was yet to start performances, “to the stage as soon as it is feasible and safe to do so.”

Trouble in Mind, Landmark Play About Race, Heads to Broadway