‘Trouble in Mind’ review: A stage adaptation of Jack Richardson’s long-ago hit for the University of Texas at Austin

Trouble in Mind. See it on CD (but without the orchestrations) When: It is still playing at the Trump Hotel’s Lobby Bar. Where: See my review of “Trouble in Mind.” Booked: Theatre of NOTE. The theatre is at 647 Fifth St. NW. Tickets: call 202-547-1122 or visit theatrelist.com/troubleinmind. Note: The review was originally published on Dec. 26, 2016.

“That’s the way my brain has always worked. Not nice…” Daniel Evans wasn’t paying much attention when Jack Richardson gave him one of those late-night calls. His mind, he thought, was throbbing, buzzing.

Richardson, who conducted the University of Texas at Austin Opera for 30 years and directed the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Tennessee Williams: The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore,” had at one point intended to write a score for the opera “Trouble in Mind,” one of three theater pieces detailing the many travails of the bipolar, self-destructive life of Thomas Hull, a Washington, D.C. entrepreneur and world-renowned personality.

Hull, for his part, had promised a near-flawless production of the play, one of the most arresting character pieces ever put on stage, if he got a song-and-dance musical that would work. It was 25 years since he’d been under the care of Whitman House and its medical facility, although he lived with his sister, Ann, in Fairfax, Va. As he grew and repaired with medication, he’d been able to “dissociate from an ill world,” as he told one interviewer. “It is not a defeat,” he had said, “but the process of recovering — the process of getting your head in the right place.”

But Richardson had expected “Trouble in Mind” to be staged earlier this year. So in the fall of 2016, he called his friend and frequent collaborator, Daniel Evans, and asked him to write a score. According to Richards, Evans met with Hull at the famous doctor’s estate in England.

“Daniel is a dancer and singer,” said Richards. “He wrote a little music. A little lyric, a little walk. Now to get it to the playwright, he’d have to go back and come up with two hours of music. Very tricky, very long, complex.”

Not only was Evans working on a major score with no director, he had at that time just finished a space-like opera, a bass-baritone performance by David Gryska as Hawk, a devilish cat who infiltrates the body of his owner, Dr. Santeri, an eminent author who thinks he is dead and soon discovers the truth. Hawk slowly turns into the real Dr. Santeri.

There is music associated with the Eli Wiesel novel “Night,” a play in which Gryska also had a role. Evans had been going through a difficult breakup with his girlfriend.

With “Night,” he had made his debut as a writer. “Trouble in Mind” was still coming together, so Evans directed the first two performances. That was eight years ago.

Then, Richardson died. It was one of his dying wishes to have Evans do the score. The work-in-progress had stopped there — until it was expanded after Richardson died. But the musical had not been given a new score when a new director was hired.

In summer 2017, two years after Richardson died, David Greenberg took the reins of “Trouble in Mind.” New money came in, and a redo of the score was commissioned. It was performed at the Trump Hotel’s Lobby Bar in June 2018, and at the up-and-coming German-American actor Malick Sidibe’s Ragamala Theatre in Sarasota, Fla., a couple of months later.

Now, the musical has had a new composer. Simone Kirby worked on a different score than the one that Evans had conceived and that first worked its way to director Richardson, and Hansen’s estate permitted that new music to be performed.

Now, after 66 years, those unfinished words and music are sung again:

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