We’ve Got Trouble in Mind


Leticia Ridley: Welcome to Daughters of Lorraine, a podcast from your friendly neighborhood Black feminists exploring the legacies, present, and futures of Black theatre. We are your hosts, Leticia Ridley—

Jordan Ealey: And Jordan Ealey. On this podcast, produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons—a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide—we discuss Black theatre history; conduct interviews with local and national Black theatre artists, scholars, and practitioners; and discuss plays by Black playwrights that have our minds buzzing.

In 1955, Alice Childress’s play, Trouble in Mind premiered at the Greenwich Mews Theatre in New York City. Running for ninety-one performances and claimed in Childress’ 1994 obituary to have garnered an Obie—despite there being no record from the American Theatre Wing of her win—the play had a planned Broadway transfer in 1957. However, Childress’ refusal to change the play’s ending halted the planned production. It would not be until 2021, sixty-six years after its original production and twenty-seven after Childress’ death, that Trouble in Mind reached Broadway.

Leticia: The Broadway production, directed by Charles Randolph Wright and starring musical theatre darling LaChanze, was a critical success garnering four Tony nominations, though it did not win any. In today’s episode, we discuss the impact and legacy of Trouble in Mind, discussing the play’s evergreen critique of the American theatre and the filmed 2021 production at the National Theatre.

Leticia: Welcome back. Welcome back. Yes, we’re back. Welcome back, listeners, to Daughters of Lorraine with another episode. We are, yes, excited to be here with you all to discuss a luminary of Black theatre.

Jordan: Yes, yes, the mother herself, Alice Childress. Before we sort of dive into the content of our episode, when did you first come across Alice Childress and her work?

Leticia: I’m going to be honest with you, I have no idea when I did. I think she was always a figure that had hovered around my training or my learning of Black theatre. Like she was mentioned in a lot of articles that I was writing, but I don’t remember particularly reading any of her plays until just being propelled by my own interests.

There was this competition that I applied to when I was a master student at UMD, and I think it was a historical women playwriting thing where you’re supposed to be inspired by a woman who wrote plays and Alice Childress was one of the people on the list and Wedding Band was on the list.

And I remember reading that play and being like, “Okay, Alice Childress, this is what you’re about.” And then I ended up, when I was doing my research on the NEC, I found out that she was one of the first women that they produced and they produced her one act play called String.

So I have been a long admirer of Alice Childress. I think she is similar in the fact to Lorraine Hansberry in that she had a lot to say both in her artistic expression but also outside of it in politics, in her thoughts, about what an American theatre should be and what a Black theatre should be.

So that’s my roundabout way of saying that Alice Childress has shadowed me even if I can’t place it, particularly how I was introduced or where I was introduced to her work. How about you, Jordan?

Jordan: For me, where I first encountered her name is also my first year as a master’s student at UMD. I was taking a class on pedagogy with who would become my trusted advisor of Dr. Faedra Chatard Carpenter, and she was teaching the class. And one of the assignments… I think you probably also took this class, but one of the assignments was to put together a syllabus for your dream class.

And I remember making a syllabus about Black women playwrights. And I really wanted to span a really large chronology of time. So I think I just chose the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. And in trying to fill the gap in the forties and fifties, I came across Alice Childress’ name, and I ended up putting her play Florence on my syllabus because I think it was in 1949 that play was first written and produced.

And that just put her into my lexicon, my theatre lexicon. But it wasn’t until, I think it’s when we took Contemporary African American Drama and we read Trouble in Mind in that class. That was the first time I actually had ever read a play by her. Then since then, I just went on my own journey of wanting to read all of her work.

Leticia: She was prolific, how do you get through the body of work?

Jordan: Yeah. But I’ve read a good amount of her work and I’m just in awe of her as a thinker and as an artist and as just this incredible woman who had a really incredible life but still relatively contained. Her legacy is really relatively contained despite her being this prolific writer.

Leticia: I agree with that and I think that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to spotlight her on the podcast. And specifically with the recent Broadway production of Trouble in Mind, I think it’s important that we think about Alice Childress who had a long career in the theatre, which was committed to the American theatre that was constantly working to sort of push the boundaries of what the American theatre could be. And I think it’s actually quite fascinating to your point, Jordan, that she is someone that seems to still be on the margins of American theatre and even Black theatre. And I don’t know if that’s a fact of there only could be one. So we already have Lorraine Hansberry, so why should we talk about Alice Childress per se? But I think that what we strive to do in part on this podcast is show people that there is a buffet and a feast of Black theatre.

And regardless if you may not be a fan or intrigued by the work of someone like Lorraine Hansberry like myself is—again, that’s my favorite play, if y’all all didn’t know again—that there are other folks at the table that may pique your fancy or your interest. And Alice Childress I think is someone who we need to give a little bit more attention and flowers to and really deep dive into the legacy of all the things that she offered us. She was not born Alice, but she was actually born Louise Henderson, that is her birth name.

And she decided to go by Alice Herndon until she was married in the early 1930s where we became to know her as Alice Childress. But she was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1916. Jordan, that’s the South. How do you feel about engaging with Alice Childress’ work as someone from the South and do you see those sort of influences within her work?

Jordan: Yeah, absolutely. Alice Childress. One, I think the concept of just naming yourself is something I’m super into as this Black woman who’s like, “I just want to be Alice.” We don’t know why she chose that name or why she chose to have a different name, but I think the act of naming oneself is really important and powerful.

And I also think in focusing on someone who comes from the South, time and again on this podcast, I’m always talking about really leaning into the Southern perspective. And it’s something that I am really passionate about because it’s often one that gets skipped within Black studies in general, but especially from our perspective as Black theatre and performance scholars, there’s a huge gap of knowledge and thinking about creativity like the artistic work of Southern perspectives and Southerners.

The presence of the South abounds in Black expressive culture because many people are writing about it, but it’s often written about in this very backwards way, like you have to leave the South to go somewhere to do something else. And I think there’s something important about Alice Childress’ work is that a lot of it takes place in the South. For example, she wrote a play with music, [a] musical called Gullah. It was originally titled Sea Island Song, but because she didn’t like that particular title, dulled down the focus on Gullah Geechee identity, she renamed it, Gullah. And that became this play.

And that’s just one example, right? Wedding Band, right? Another play that takes place in the South. There’s just this way that she, as a Southern woman, it’s really shaping the way that she’s also thinking about racial relations, topics such as miscegenation. And I feel a lot of kinship with her because of that. And I also want to say too, when you bring up Lorraine Hansberry, I think it’s so interesting because it’s like let’s not pit two queens against each other, but oftentimes in Black theatre historiography, that’s how it is.

It’s like, “well, if she could have had the first Broadway production, but she didn’t. And why is Lorraine Hansberry remembered and not her?” And it’s like, first of all, these are two Black women who were writing in the time period where Black women were not being produced. They were not being talked about, they’re not being listened to.

And second of all, they were friends. And Alice Childress was a mentor to Lorraine Hansberry. They ran in the same circles. They were intellectual and creative thinkers in collaboration with one another. I just often can’t stand the idea that they need to be pitted against each other.

One should have been the first or one could have been the first or whatever it is, because it doesn’t seem like it is a reflective of the reality of their lives. And furthermore, there had already been a ton of… There’s a way that Black men don’t get that same pitted against each other in this way. This is the first person versus this could have been the first person or that, right?

And I feel like there’s a way… It’s something that has always bothered me because even in reading about Alice Childress, whether it’s preparing for this episode or just for preparing for when I lecture about her in my Black theatre history class, you cannot read about Alice Childress without reading about the specter of A Raisin in the Sun. And I just think that being her only or people focusing on that as a part of her legacy, it stifles, I think what we’re able to gain from her as an artist in her own right.

Leticia: And what you are referring to Jordan is when Alice Childress refused to change the ending of her play Trouble in Mind to be more palatable for a white audience, her transfer to Broadway, which would’ve made her the first Black woman to have a play on Broadway was reversed.

And I think you’re absolutely correct in identifying that history, also following this dichotomy of Alice Childress and Lorraine Hansberry because on the other end we talked about the lore of Raisin in the Sun and specifically the lore of the ending being different than what ended up on Broadway. And this perpetual way that this dichotomy is continuously maintained absolutely positions them against each other.

Even though Alice Childress was, like you said, a mentor to her and also a decade older than Lorraine Hansberry and also came from very different backgrounds. Alice Childress was raised primarily by her maternal grandmother, Eliza White, in Harlem, who is often credited with encouraging Alice to write and really pushing education. Alice Childress did not have any formal education. She was self-taught, but she would spend hours in the public library. I know that you are a huge fan of public libraries, Jordan, and you also love to read.

And I just think that that echoes also someone like August Wilson and the way that he came up and seeing his own sort of self-learning and deciding to tell stories in the manner that he did. So I think that’s very different than when we think about Lorraine Hansberry. But that does not mean that there are different sort of paths or their different familial history should determine how they become foils of one another. Because like you said, they are in conversation with each other that Lorraine Hansberry is only possible because an Alice Childress was there before.

Jordan: And I think there’s something very fascinating when we think about the networks of Black feminism and Black feminist intellectuals in the 20th century. This was a network. Soyica Diggs Colbert has this term that she uses in her book, Black Movements, “networks of affiliation.” There’s a way in which all of these Black women have always been in conversation with each other, whether it’s from the S Street Salon, into this kind of leftist Black network that had all these folks talking and communing and organizing and even critiquing each other.

So I don’t say that to say that all Black women and all Black people everywhere were friends and liked and loved each other. But I just say that to say that it could have been this person, but eventually this person that bothers me.

Leticia: and Black people don’t look around looking over their shoulder being like, “Man, how can I beat this other Black person?” Or “How can I be better than this other?” We don’t see ourselves in competition with that, you know what I mean?

And it seems like often this person versus this person becomes a tool of white supremacy to reinforce this idea that there’s this talented Black person or that there is division within this artistic art form and that this person can’t work with this person, or this person’s work is better than this person when just my embodied experience. That’s just not how Black people navigate and or live their life thinking about being in competition with each other.

Jordan: So something that I really love about Alice Childress’ journey, and just to go back to your point around her education is part of her education was also with the Federal Theatre Project and their youth theatre division and meeting someone like Venezuela Jones, who is the first Black woman playwright that she came across.

And then also meeting Shirley Graham, who would eventually become Shirley Graham Du Bois because of her marriage to WEB Du Bois. And the encouragement there. I love focusing on the ways that people get educated and the training that they receive because it teaches you a lot about the things that they value within their work and within how they navigate their career.

And so part of her journey into becoming a professional theatre artist happened when she also joined the American Negro Theatre or the ANT for people who are familiar with the American Negro Theatre. And she did go to Broadway, not as a playwright, but as an actress, and garnered a Tony nomination for her role in Anna Lucasta. So she again, was very successful in the theatre world and that her star was already rising, right?

Leticia: Yeah. I think it’s actually quite amazing that we perhaps focus on her mostly as a playwright, I would say contemporarily because she was so prolific in that particular realm of theatre. But like you said, she was very successful in many facets of the theatre. She had a successful acting career. A Tony Award is nothing to sneeze at, especially back then, right?

Jordan: Nomination, I want to say-

Leticia: Sorry.

Jordan: … nomination.

Leticia:  Yeah, nomination, sorry. There’s nothing to sneeze at that she had a Tony nomination at that time. And I think that she was continuously working as well. That was not her last show that she was acting in. And I’m so interested that she was sort of a jack of all trades and so much so she was also successful in the many avenues.

I think a common story we often hear about Black actresses is like, “Oh, I didn’t have the roles that I wanted to be in, so then I decided to write, and then that’s how I become a playwright.” Which is not to discount that path at all, but I think Alice Childress was someone who was always thinking about these things in collaboration.

You mentioned earlier the play that she did for ANT, “Florence.” You mentioned “Florence.” She wrote and she acted in that, which I think is a under explored part of her legacy is her acting career that she had. So yeah.

Jordan: The path of the actor turned playwright or actor and playwright is one that is so prominent when you look at the history of Black women playwrights. So there’s folks like Alice Childress, there’s someone like Vinnette Carroll who’s a director who also then begins to write books for musicals. Then there’s also even contemporarily, you look at someone like Dominique Morisseau. That was her path as well.

And I think there’s something very interesting about the relationship between acting and writing that’s under explored because there is a way that you understand the shape and the language and the way that plays go on stage because you live it. Micki Grant is the queen of this. She was an actor, a performer, and also she wrote these amazing and composed these amazing musicals.

And Micki Grant literally says, “I know how to write music because I know how to sing it.” There’s something I think that is really fascinating about Black women’s embodied relationship to writing that is so unlike, well, you look at these male playwrights who are being trained in playwriting or maybe they’re novelists who are turned playwright, there’s a focus on the word and the text that Black women playwrights entering into the space in whichever way they can, I think is really fascinating. Really, really fascinating.

Alice Childress is someone who really seen all her plays as political, and she says, “All my plays are political as that’s all I ever lived.”

Leticia: Right. I think you’re absolutely right. And Alice Childress, why she was a successful actress, she described it as that she felt like she could more freely express herself as a writer than she could as an actress. And as we transition to talk about her playwriting more significantly, Alice Childress is someone who really seen all her plays as political, and she says, “All my plays are political as that’s all I ever lived.”

And I think this idea about the lived, the embodied, the experience that you were just sort of harping to connects with her writing and her ability to depict that, right? We see this throughout her body of work that she is interested in some of the most pressing issues of the time, and that she’s working through these ideas through her plays.

Childress described her work as trying to portray the have-nots in a have society. She said, “My writing attempts to interpret the ordinary because they are not ordinary. Each human is uniquely different like snowflakes. The human pattern is never cast twice. We are uncommonly and marvelously intricate in thought and action. Our problems are most complex and too often silently born.”

And to that quote, she’s interested in the everyday, but not the everyday as somehow excluded from the political. She wants to explore the political through everyday people who sometimes may on the surface seem that they’re so disconnected from what happens in the political, but for Alice Childress, her lived experience and her work is a way to explore how all these things are connected.

Jordan: Exactly, exactly. And when she was with ANT, the American Negro Theatre, she was talking about how being an actress, and it’s a quote from her that she says, “Being an actress is a great help for my writing because you know how an actor feels how an actor can latch onto the senior writing and you know a great deal about overwriting and the problems actors can have latching onto a scene that is unwieldy, it’s more than acting.”

And she talks also about how with ANT everyone had to do everything, you had to stage manage, you had to paint sets, you had to do all of these different things. And I think Alice Childress is, again, like you said, that relationship that she has between the everyday, there’s something about having to lean into the practicality of being an everyday person.

So she’s talking about just everyday quotidian Black communities and also their interaction with white communities, but also the practicality of working in theatre. For my theatre people who are listening, there is a certain kind of understanding, education, and respect that you get when you have to do a bunch of different jobs in the theatre. And it only helps you when you’re a scholar of theatre, when you’re a playwright, to think about the practicality of what it takes to make this thing, what it takes to put it up on stage.

And there’s something about also Alice Childress’ interest in leftist politics and class that also I think comes through with her desire to feature the everyday that comes from this practical education she got with ANT, where it’s like, it’s not just about acting. It’s not just about being on stage, it’s about the whole production itself and the labor that it takes to put it up as well.

Leticia: Right. Yeah, I absolutely agree with that. And I think you bring up a wonderful point that we also see in the essays that Alice Childress was writing at the time. And if I’m not mistaken, we talked about this essay this season in our What Is Black Theatre? episode, was “For a Strong Negro People’s Theatre.” So if you want, listeners, a sort of deeper dive into that particular essay, please go visit and listen into that episode.

But we also see that reflected in how she’s imagining the theatre itself, who should be included, what should be staged, why there is a necessity for a Negro theatre, as she would say, and the art form of theatre to be important to Black people’s lives, and that she’s not interested in upholding this sort of bourgeoise-ness of the theatre itself.

But she’s interested, like you said, in the laborers, she’s interested in the white collar workers. She’s interested in where other venues, where theatre’s happening, so churches and lodges, places that may not be often looked at as engaging in a theatrical form or subjects of plays.

And we had the opportunity to at least share the same campus with Mary Helen Washington for a small time before she retired, but she writes her book, The Other Blacklist, and she dedicates time talking about Alice Childress and her leftist politics. And how oftentimes she gets left out of conversations of how she was a leftist advocating for this political viewpoint, and that this is in part because of her being a Black woman.

Jordan: Exactly. And she wasn’t, or there’s no record that anyone’s been able to find of her being a card carrying communist. However, that doesn’t mean that she wasn’t Black leftist as Mary Helen Washington makes this very compelling point within The Other Blacklist. And I think this all comes in with thinking about labor, with thinking about embodiment, with thinking about critique. I feel like all of this is synthesized rather nicely within Trouble in Mind. So I think we can transition and talk about this play.

Leticia: Yes, let’s talk about Trouble in Mind. Trouble in Mind was first premiered at the Greenwich Mews Theatre in 1955 and ran for ninety-one performances as we said in our episode preview. Trouble in Mind is probably one of her most well-known plays, I would say probably second to Wedding Band, which is I think oftentimes where people are directed to when they’re first exploring her plays.

And as we mentioned earlier, it was tapped for Broadway, but because of Alice Childress deciding not to change the end of her play, it was basically struck from that season. And I was reading an interview with Kathy Perkins who was close friends with Alice Childress who said right before when Alice Childress passed, she mentioned to Kathy Perkins that she never thought that she would ever see Broadway.

And Kathy Perkins, who ended up being the lighting designer for Trouble in Mind on Broadway [in 2021], the recent production of it was saying that she was so happy that Alice Childress never thought she was going to see Broadway, and she finally did, even if she wasn’t there to see it, that as a close friend of hers, it was quite wonderful to be able to experience that, but also be part of a play that quite frankly indicts the American theatre at the American theatre’s neck, a play within a play, and really pushes to the forefront some of the issues that I would argue still plagues the American theatre today.

Jordan: Like you said, it still holds up. I mean, this play just had its Broadway production two years ago, right? And something very interesting. So LaChanze played Wiletta in that production of Trouble in Mind that happened on Broadway. And in so many ways, the trajectory of Wiletta also reflects LaChanze’s own career trajectory. When I was watching some of the press for that show, LaChanze was saying she had never worked with a Black director until this particular production.

You know LaChanze as a musical theatre actor from her work with Bubbly Black Girl in 2000 to her Tony Award-winning performance in The Color Purple. She was in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. LaChanze is very much known as a musical theatre star. And so it’s really interesting to me to then make her transition into a straight play in the same way that Wiletta does in the play. And so I found their juxtaposition to be quite fascinating, actually.

Leticia: Right. And for those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to read Trouble in Mind, we do encourage that you do. Just to give you a quick synopsis of what happens in the play, not really spoil there, but just to give you a general idea of it, is that the play takes place in a theatre in which there’s theatre rehearsals for this lynching play that this white playwright has written.

And there are the actors who are in a rehearsal process with a white director, and all this sort of racial tension that is in the space of the rehearsal room, but also that’s in the script bubbles up to the surface and impacts the life or the outcome of this production.

So we see a lot of, particularly the Black actors, characters, the Black characters in the play who are actors having to wrestle with what does it mean to be playing a role, I would argue, having to be aware of this burden of constantly acting, right? Because even when they’re in rehearsals, in the play, you could tell that they’re maintaining the act that they have been that entire time that white director has been in the room.

There’s moments where we get of their real thoughts and who they really are in the world oftentimes when they’re with each other, but anytime there is whiteness presence, it influences how they show up in the space of the theatre.

Jordan: I think that’s a really interesting point, Leticia, because one of the first moments that we get within the script or the play itself is this scene between Willetta and John where Willetta is passing on this advice about how he should conduct himself in the rehearsal room where it’s like, “Smile, laugh, laugh at anything that the director says. White folks can’t stand unhappy Negroes.”

And so this particular way that she’s the OG giving the youngblood some advice on how to conduct himself, it’s so true to life, and it really reminds me of some of the guidance I’ve gotten from mentors who are Black within the professional theatre and professional academia spaces where it’s “navigate in this way, navigate in that way.”

I mean, you can play it in many different ways. You can make it seem like this very sinister thing or this kind of maternal way, which I think is the way that it was seen in the production that we just watched with the National Theatre. But yeah, this kind of intergenerational dialogue that’s happening, like you said, both within, you see it within the rehearsal room with the white characters, but also outside of it.

What’s the utility of Black theatre for Black people when there’s these legacies of having to be aware that you are still performing for most likely predominantly white folks?

Leticia: Right. It’s like that moment that you’re talking about at the beginning of the play where John and Wiletta are talking, and John is this sort of new fresh meat. This is his first play. He’s going to be an actor and Wiletta being like, “I’ve been an actress for a very long time, and this is what I’ve had to do to survive, and this is what I had to learn. I wish someone would’ve told me maybe my career had been farther.”

And even John’s sort of hesitancy as young Black man trying to figure it out. He’s hesitant to actually even take the advice of Wiletta. And as the play progresses, we see him actually start buying into what she’s saying because it’s working for him. He’s getting a certain level of access, he’s getting a certain level of praise for what he’s doing.

The advice that Wiletta gets works for him. But as we see throughout the play, at one point it stops working for her and she has to reconcile what that actually means. And I think we get this sort of Du Boisian double consciousness that this play is really embodying both understanding the expectation from a white audience, both the white audience that’s watching this production, the white audience within the play, the expectation of the white director that this is how we’re expected to act and this is how we’re expected to be, versus the awareness that that’s not who you are.

And even as I think there’s some tension between some of the other Black characters, Sheldon, Millie as seasoned Black actors, there is a certain level of respect and understanding that they’re all playing a game that they can recognize even as Mr. Manners, the director cannot.

And I think that is just such a potent critique of, I think a question that Black theatremakers are asking constantly, and I have talked about this on the podcast before, is what’s the utility of Black theatre for Black people when there’s these legacies of having to be aware that you are still performing for most likely predominantly white folks?

And like you said, with LaChanze, the potential of not having a Black director for a very long time, maybe less now than it was in the past, but it’s still not common enough. There’s a reason August Wilson was like, “I only want Black directors directing my work.” And even he has now passed, that wish is still not even honored anymore because he’s no longer here.

Jordan: You hit the nail on the head with that. And I think there’s something interesting about the play that is being rehearsed within the script, being an anti-lynching drama. Chaos in Belleville is an anti-lynching drama, and it’s also written by a white playwright, a white playwright that we do encounter within the span of the play.

And Wiletta being like, yes, an actor, but also this kind of dramaturgical figure where she’s questioning, you know what I mean? She’s like, “What Black mother, what’s the truth?” And it reminds me of something that Alice Childress said, right within “The Strong Negro People’s Theatre” essay that we talked about where she asked, “Where is truth?” She asked that question, “Where is truth?” And it’s so fascinating to me.

And there’s this idea, this search for truth, I think is also this kind of Black feminist dramaturgical question and aesthetic. It’s something that Alice Childress asks, it’s something that Glenda Dickerson asks in her essay, “The Cult of True Womanhood.” And it’s also a question that Pearl Cleage asks just recently in an essay that she wrote for HowlRound a few years back around how theatre helps us tell the truth.

And so, Zora Neale Hurston in her search for authenticity. There’s this idea that truth is constantly coming back when it comes to Black women because so much of Black womanhood is contorted within these theatre spaces. And also the idea that an anti-lynching drama could be commercial theatre is also fascinating. This is the fifties that Alice Childress is writing this.

Leticia: Right, right. And the fact that I think even Wiletta comments on it at the opening moment where she’s talking to John. I think she said, “John, so when they asked you what you thought about the script, you love it. It’s amazing. Dah, dah, dah, dah.” And then John asked Wiletta like, “So what do you think of the script?” She’s like, “Oh, it’s terrible.” And he’s like, “So why if it’s so terrible, did you decide to be it?” She’s like, “Oh, it’s going to do well.”

Even the recognition that they know what would sell and be commercially successful for a white audience and thus having to embody or play certain characters because the reality is, is that this is the profession that they choose to exist in, and that they understand that these are the roles that are available of them, and the expectation of what Blackness can look like on stage is I think a constant tension.

And in the production at the National Theatre and the direction I think we see that really show up with the acting or the acting styles of the actors. And we talked a bit about this off the podcast about how there was such a heightened acting style by all the Black actors.

Jordan: It was very like 1950s. The actress playing Wiletta was very much had this kind of heightened affectation to the way that she spoke. And you saw that from Sheldon, right? Sheldon being this character who was very much… It’s I wonder because when we were doing preparation for this episode, coming across the fact that Alice Childress was married to Alvin Childress who was on Amos ‘n’ Andy.

And if you know anything about Amos ‘n’ Andy, it is the blueprint of Black comedic acting on television in particular. But Alice Childress did not like it. She was not a fan of Amos ‘n’ Andy despite one of her husbands being on the show. And so I wonder-

Leticia: Amos on the show.

Jordan: … Huge success of the show, and again, the specter of that haunts comedic acting until this day, right? It’s to this day, but Black people say till this day. And I wonder how much of that Amos ‘n’ Andy style and the potential critique embedded within that from Alice Childress finds itself in Sheldon as this like, oh yeah, kind of character. He’s goofy. He’s very unserious, but then he has that moment where he does delve into a really heartfelt monologue, so she gives humanity.

Leticia: Right, I absolutely agree with you. I think Sheldon, we see that moment in the play where Sheldon is describing to the other Black actors, for John, like this is the character that I’m going to be held into and this is how I’m going to move. And we see, even when they’re not rehearsing the play, he’s using the same movement vocabulary that he told John prior that was expected of him in these moments.

But there’s also the moments where this breaks when he’s retelling of the real lynching he experienced, because Manners, the white director says, “Well, none of us really ever experienced a lynching.” And he discloses that he has, and he tells us how it is. All that movement vocabulary, the sort of tone of his voice changes. It’s this moment I think where the veil falls and we see the more truthful version of Sheldon and his thoughts about certain things.

And then at the end of that, there’s this silence in the room that then is interrupted by Sheldon laughing because people in the room don’t know what to do with this truth, that Manners asking his Black actors to access, but they cannot in front of him because he refuses to see it as it’s the truth that it is.


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