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Curtain Rises: Civic Theatre of Allentown premieres ‘Trouble in Mind’

Civic Theatre of Allentown is presenting the Lehigh Valley premiere of a 1955 comedy drama that was headed to Broadway, but was canceled when black playwright Alice Childress wouldn’t tone down its message.

Childress’ “Trouble in Mind” is March 17 - 26 in Civic’s Theatre514.

“It’s a play they didn’t want you to see in 1955,” says Civic Theatre of Allentown Artistic Director William Sanders.

“’Trouble in Mind’ is a groundbreaking backstage story of egos and attitudes, and an insightful look at who we are and who we want to be,” Sanders says.

Gabe Moses directs the Civic Theatre production.

The play finally had its premiere on Broadway in 2021 and was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Revival.

The original production opened Off-Broadway in 1955 and was slated to transfer to Broadway in 1957, but was canceled when Childress refused to change her script.

The show is a play within a play when an integrated theater company gathers to rehearse a new Broadway-bound show, “Chaos in Belleville.” Wiletta Mayer is a black actress of a certain age who has spent her career playing stereotypical roles “from mammies to menials.”

When she is given the lead role in the new play, it is a once-in-lifetime opportunity. But as the harsh truths of racism in America spill out of the play and into the rehearsal hall, Wiletta’s insistence on her dignity may cost her the work she desperately needs.

Childress’ play is a funny, moving and ultimately shattering look at racism, identity and ego in the high-stakes New York theater world.

The play is recommended for mature audiences due to strong language and mature themes.

“Trouble in Mind,” 7:30 p.m. March 17, 23 - 25; 2, 7:30 p.m. March 18; 2 p.m. March 26, Civic of Theatre of Allentown Civic514, 514 N. 19th St., Allentown. Tickets: 610-432-8943; http://civictheatre.org

Playhouse classic: The Pennsylvania Playhouse presents the 100-year-old thriller “The Ghost Train,” March 17 - April 2.

Andrew Maldonado directs the play. Brett Oliveira is set and lighting designer.

“The Ghost Train,” written in 1923 by Arnold Ridley, was a sold-out hit in London and on Broadway at the time and paved the way for the theatrical genre of strangers trapped together on a train facing adversity in films such as 1940’s “Night Train to Munich,” 1974’s “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” and 1990’s “Narrow Margin.”

The story takes place in Maine near the Canadian border where there’s the legend of a phantom locomotive that sweeps through a peaceful village, leaving death in its wake.

A group of railway travelers, who represent a cross-section of English 1920s’ society, find themselves stranded one evening in the waiting room of an isolated country station. They ignore warnings of the station master who tells them to leave, determined to spend the night in the supposedly haunted station.

The cast includes Stephen Simone (Richard Winthrop), Bryanna Pye (Elsie Winthrop), Lawrence Mason (Teddie Deakin), Evan Heger (Charles Murdock), Mackenzie Schmidt (Peggy Murdock), Beth Sucro (Miss Bourne), Matthew Contakes (Saul Hodgkin), Alyssa Steiner (Julia Price), Tom Gilmore (Dr. Sterling), Judy Evans (Miss Price) and Deven Windisch (Jackson).

“Ghost Train,” 7:30 p.m. March 17 - 18, 24 - 25, 31, April 1; 3 p.m. March 19, 26, April 2, The Pennsylvania Playhouse, 390 Illicks Mill Road, Bethlehem. Tickets: 610-865-6665; http://www.paplayhouse.org

“Curtain Rises” is a column about the theater, stage shows, the actors in them and the directors and artists who make them happen. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY CIVIC THEATRE OF ALLENTOWN The cast of “Trouble In Mind,” Civic Theatre of Allentown