One of the treats of season tickets is going to plays you might not have chosen and finding an unexpected gem. Such is “Trouble in Mind,” the opening production of Santa Rosa Junior College’s Theatre Arts season.

The play, first produced off Broadway in 1957, is an unusual mix, a provocative look at the lives of black actors in the civil rights era and a sometime comedy that had the audience connecting with its feisty, cagey and quirky characters.

It was written by Alice Childress at a time when the roles for black actors were limited mostly to that of servants. She gives us the story of a small cast beginning rehearsals for a new Broadway show and of a seasoned black actress who is going to find it unbearably difficult to play another stereotypical role.

Understudy Tia Starr stepped in with authority to take the lead role of Wiletta Mayer, the actress who goes from giving advice on how to mask one’s feeling from the white director to voicing her desire to play characters she can believe in. The rest of the cast also gave memorable performances, including Will Formaker, Lawrence Edwards, Pete Russell, Paige Picard, Angela Monique, Damion Square, Ronald Fisher, Trey Saulter, Ward Van Alstine and Regielyn Padua.

Director John Shillington has added a prologue that helps us understand the history of those times, a quick survey that takes us from Rosa Parks to the “Dick Van Dyke Show.” And to begin the evening, he appeared on stage with Ernie Shoemaker, the actress cast as Mammy, who briefly shared her recollections of growing up in Texas in the era of segregation.

The play, held in the more-intimate venue of Newman Auditorium, continues at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $10 – $15. The box office is 527-4343.

The season continues Nov. 23 with Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” followed March 8 by “A Few Good Men” and April 19 with “Legally Blond.” Learn more at