Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Review: Trouble in Mind at The Guthrie

To be honest I have had my fears and doubts about the new Director of the Guthrie Theater Joseph Haj.  This season's abundance of light favorites, like Harvey, The Cocoanuts, and even To Kill A Mocking Bird, (yes, I know it deals with serious issues, but let's face it, it is a crowd pleaser) caused me to wonder whether we could expect the high quality of previous Guthrie directors. I feel better now. While I know that some were unhappy with Joe Dowling, the fact that he brought high quality productions to our stage such as Other Desert Cities, Raisin in the Sun, Tribes, The Piano, Happy Days, God of Carnage, Freud's Last Session etc. speaks volumes about his tenure.  That being said, the Guthrie's newest play, Trouble in MInd, directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton lends me hope for great things to come.

Lest we be too sanguine about the Guthrie's past, the first thing that must be mentioned is the shameful fact (according to the Star Tribune) that Ms. Curtis-Newton is the first female black director to direct on the Guthrie main stage.

Valerie Curtis Newton (Image from The Stranger .)

Curtis-Newton visits us via Seattle where she has done a prior version of the play, and in the current production she directs with skill, strength and the expertise created by experience. If one goes by the recent Star Tribune article, this experience goes deeper than having directed a previous production of the play. She has direct practical knowledge of what it is like to be a black woman trying to make it in a white dominated theater world.

Trouble in Mind concerns a black actress in the late fifties or early sixties, who has always dreamed of being a theater star and who has made her way in a world loaded against her by being agreeable and amenable to the generally unfair and limited theater roles available to black women. (I was going to say "of the time," but then had to stop and reconsider how much better the situation has gotten for black actresses in our times. - Somewhat better, yes, but proportionately better? And it is hard not to wonder how many of those earlier black maid and nanny roles have turned into equally unacceptable unwed mother and drug addict characters whose values systems are not an improvement on those prior roles.) Wiletta Mayer, played astutely by Margo Moorer (ironically perhaps best known to the wider world for her role as Miss Louise in Forrest Gump) finds herself struggling with the new ideas of motivational acting imposed on her and the interracial cast of a sappy drama about a black mother who sends her son into the hands of a lynch mob, because she believes the white establishment will have his best interests in mind and be able to protect him. 

The basic momentum of the play involves Wiletta's dawning recognition of her own complicity with the racist establishment as she struggles to understand how her character could possibly trust the white establishment to protect her son, a young man, who is guilty of nothing except trying to register to vote in the South of Jim Crow.  

Playwright Alice Childress however builds a much more complex and textured play, by creating an array of supporting characters with varied opinions about the best way to navigae racial differences, All of these characters are believable and justified in their reasoning and admirably played by a stellar cast. To quote the director, Curtis-Newton from the Star Tribune, "There are no real villains in “Trouble in Mind.” There are people who’re caught inside the stereotypes about them." Thus the temperamental director within the play, Al Manners, (portrayed by Guthrie favorite John Catron), a man who at first seems entirely unsympathetic, reveals an unsuspected understanding of the situation, albeit from an entirely different perspective than put forth by the other characters. To use the current fad-word, the play deals with life in terms of its complicated "intersectionality", showing how the interworkings of class, race, ethnicity and gender make inequity enormously difficult to resolve.

Al Manners (John Catron) directing John Nevins (Marcel Spears) 
in the Guthrie Production of Trouble in Mind. Image from The Star Tribune

Trouble in Mind is beautifully acted and Curtis-Newton has a smart, perfectly paced production that asks questions about what it means to be an Uncle Tom, the nature of well-intentioned white patronisation, the intersection of academic theory and personal experience, the desire for material things and the costs of getting along.

This review was going to talk about the wonderful performance of the cast, the great sets, the spot-on costumes, but honestly I have said enough.  The play speaks for itself. I highly, highly recommend it. 

See it. 
Enjoy it. 
Feel uncomfortable. 
Talk about it ...
...and help support future productions of this calibre!

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Signs of Spring

Birds we haven't seen for a while are suddenly showing up at the feeder.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Putting it All Together: Fifiteen Finished drawings

So there it is my whole semester's work!

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Self Portrait in Style of Renoir

Trying again!!  Pastels are new to me and I am no Renoir!

I think I look like Harvey Keitel in that picture. It is something about the eyes!!