Kathryn Hunter-Williams as Wiletta Mayer in "Trouble in Mind." (photo by Jon Gardiner)
Kathryn Hunter-Williams as Wiletta Mayer in “Trouble in Mind.” (photo by Jon Gardiner)

PlayMakers Repertory Company continues its main-stage season Jan. 21-Feb. 8 with a scathingly funny backstage drama, “Trouble in Mind,” by Alice Childress. PlayMakers is the professional theater in residence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Special events associated with the show begin Jan. 12.

“Trouble in Mind” is set behind the scenes of a Broadway play in 1957. In rehearsals for a potentially landmark, racially integrated production, the leading actress must wrestle with a choice between the role of a lifetime or compromising her values.

The Washington Post called “Trouble in Mind” “wise and extraordinarily winning” and “one of the best plays about racism ever written.”

The play is a bitingly satiric modern classic penned by a real-life groundbreaker, playwright/actress Alice Childress, who was the first African-American woman to have her work professionally produced on the New York stage (“Gold Through the Trees,” 1952).

From left to right, Kathryn Hunter-Williams as Wiletta Mayer, Roger Robinson as Sheldon Forrester, Myles Bullock as John Nevins, Carey Cox as Judy Sears and Suzette Azariah Gunn as Millie Davis in "Trouble in Mind." (photo by Jon Gardiner)
From left to right, Kathryn Hunter-Williams as Wiletta Mayer, Roger Robinson as Sheldon Forrester, Myles Bullock as John Nevins, Carey Cox as Judy Sears and Suzette Azariah Gunn as Millie Davis in “Trouble in Mind.” (photo by Jon Gardiner)

In a career spanning more than four decades, Childress was an American theater pioneer. She was a member of Harlem’s American Negro Theater (along with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee, among others), and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress (“Anna Lucasta,” 1944). In 1972, she became one of the first African-American women to direct Off-Broadway, co-directing with Joseph Papp for the New York Shakespeare Festival. Her accomplishments opened doors for many African-American artists.

“Trouble in Mind” was Childress’ breakthrough play, running Off-Broadway in 1955. It was on track to be the first work by an African-American woman to be seen on Broadway, and many believe it is Childress who paved the way for Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Kathryn Hunter-Williams will play Wiletta Mayer, the lead actress. Among many roles at PlayMakers, she has appeared as Mama in “A Raisin in the Sun” and the Angel in “Angels in America.” She entertained audiences and garnered critical acclaim as Cassandra in this season’s opener “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”

Myles Bullock, left, as John Nevins and Carey Cox as Judy Sears in "Trouble in Mind." (photo by Jon Gardiner)
Myles Bullock, left, as John Nevins and Carey Cox as Judy Sears in “Trouble in Mind.” (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Tony Award-winning Broadway actor Roger Robinson appears as Sheldon Forrester. Robinson received the honor as Best Actor in a Featured Role for August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” and was Tony-nominated for another Wilson play, “Seven Guitars.” He has appeared in many film and television parts and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for “Brother to Brother.”

Performances of “Trouble in Mind” will be in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art on Country Club Road. Show times will be 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays and Saturday, Jan. 31.

For more information and to purchase tickets, call (919) 962-PLAY (7529) or visit www.playmakersrep.org. Individual ticket prices start at $15. Tickets are also available as part of PlayMakers’ 2014-2015 subscription packages.

In conjunction with “Trouble in Mind,” PlayMakers will host “The Vision Series-Directors in Conversation,” a behind-the-scenes preview with director Jade King Carroll, Jan. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the Paul Green Theatre. The event is free and open to the public. Participants share coffee and hors d’oeuvres provided by series sponsor Jujube Restaurant, learn about the vision for the show and get a sneak peek at the sets and costumes in progress. Reservations are appreciated. Call PlayMakers’ box office at (919) 962-7529 to RSVP.

Kathyrn Hunter-Williams as Wiletta Mayer and Schuyler Scott Mastain as Al Manners in "Trouble in Mind." (photo by Jon Gardiner)
Kathyrn Hunter-Williams as Wiletta Mayer and Schuyler Scott Mastain as Al Manners in “Trouble in Mind.” (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Other special events will include:

  • Jan. 12, 7 p.m.: “In the Wings,” presented by PlayMakers and the Durham County Library. Cast and creative team members (designers, actors and production personnel) will discuss the play at the Southwest Regional Library, 3605  Shannon Road, Durham;
  • Jan. 21, 22 and 23, 7:30 p.m.: preview performances;
  • Jan. 24, 7:30 p.m.: opening night performance;
  • Jan. 27: an all-access performance for attendees with special needs, with sign language interpretation and audio description;
  • Jan. 28 and Feb. 1: free post-show discussions with members of the creative team;
  • Jan. 31, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: “African Americans in Theater and Popular Culture after 1945,” in partnership with UNC’s Program in the Humanities, http://humanities.unc.edu/programs/adventures-in-ideas/troubleinmind/;
  • Jan. 31, 2 p.m.: open captioned performance;
  • Feb. 7, 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 8, 2 p.m.: free post-show “Mindplay” discussions sponsored by the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society.

Carolina Meadows is corporate co-producing sponsor for the play.

PlayMakers main-stage season will also feature “An Enemy of the People” by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Arthur Miller (Feb. 25-March 15), followed by “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog (April 1-19).

Based in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences, PlayMakers has been named by The Drama League as one of the “best regional theatre companies in America.”

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