Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” – Theater Alliance
By: Debbie Minter Jackson
Developed in Chicago and on its way to New York City, The Bluest Eye is having its East Coast premiere at Theater Alliance amidst plenty of advanced press and serious buzz, all well deserved, by the way. It’s a knock-out of a show that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until long after you’ve left the theater, maybe on your way to the car, or driving home-maybe by then you’ll be able to unwind enough to breathe and even beat back a few of the demons the show has conjured up on you.
Scriptwriter Lydia Diamond skillfully adapts Toni Morrison’s lyrical prose with ease, and director David Muse has an uncanny awareness of the smoldering emotional subtext that simmers like molten lava beneath the words. His dynamic staging brings the characters of this strange and peculiar little piece to life while exploring such issues as self-loathing, community, devastating abuse, and the ultimate eruptions of madness.
Carleen Troy, portraying the wounded Pecola Breedlove, inhabits her mannerisms through her awkward gait, her furtive glances, down to her stooped shoulders, the ultimate caged bird with no song to sing. All Pecola wants to do is be loved and to disappear. She provides hints of her fragile mental stage in her methodical description of actually disappearing, piece by piece, extremities, limbs, her core, everything but her eyes. Pecola’s story is told from the view of two young prepubescent sisters, Claudia and Frieda, grammar school classmates, her community sisters of sorts since their family takes her in after an house fire. Still, even while living in a “normal” household, Pecola carries her emotional scars with her-they don’t disappear because she’s in better surroundings, one of Morrison’s many messages simmering beneath the surface.
Other stories bubble up in this mesmerizing piece- early playful, loving scenes between Pecola’s parents in younger years before they accepted their “cloak of ugliness,” the pervasive sting of feeling invisible, the disillusionment of leaving the South for better conditions “up North.” Morrison covers an amazing amount of material in her slight volume and Diamond reveals the characters and propels their stories through cascading vignettes with the actors portraying a variety of characters, from gossipy neighbors to funeral attendants on a bare stage and a clever assortment of props. The piece also offers a rare glimpse at such early Morrison themes as intertwining literature and music, especially Jazz (the name of one of her books); her rich use of metaphor and imagery, e.g. marigold seeds didn’t sprout that year, although Pecola did; Love (another book); and her sense of myth and mysticism-all this and more grace this long-awaited production.
The stellar performances are all noteworthy with both Lynn Chavis and Aakhu Freeman in exceptional fine voice and committed delivery, along with Erika Rose’s observations and hilarious snappy asides. Broad shouldered Jeorge Watson offers beautifully physicalized portrayals of Breedlove’s downward spiral from the hurt, lost, orphaned adolescent, to the gentle lover, to abusive husband, to drunken father so lost in his own self-hatred to commit the foul act of abuse on his little girl. Finally, even with limited stage time, Alfred Kemp portrays a hustling conjure man with sinister, clear articulated menace assuring Pecola that her wish will indeed come true, yes, even for blue eyes, the ultimate assurance to a poor little black girl of being loved and cherished. So fervent is her wish, and so awful is her life that she teeters over the edge of sanity and finally sees what she wants in her hand mirror, a pretty little girl with pretty blue eyes.
Just about all the members of the design team were of one mind in depicting the fractured realities in The Bluest Eye, with lighting by John Burkland and sound by Ryan Rumery down to talented Reggie Ray’s period costumes. Unfortunately, the graphic design misses the subtlety of the message and offers a literal, rather garish depiction of a Eurocentric glamorous eye in the print media, which is repeated on the set that becomes more ghoulishly camp than emotionally terrifying in the ending scene.
The Bluest Eye burst into the literature scene in 1970 giving a voice to the hurt, frustration, and rage of many a black girl who felt thrust into the shadows of ugliness. This brilliant adaptation brings this seminal work to the stage and is a reminder of how far we’ve come at least on the surface, in appreciating the diverse beauty of our bodies and ourselves. The next step is for us to recognize and deal with the residual effects of being treated as ugly and peculiar, like Pecola, about our differences, whatever they might be.
Playing through November 12th. Showtimes are Thursdays – Sundays at 8pm, and Sunday matinee at 2:00pm
Theater Alliance at the H Street Playhouse
1365 H Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
One Response to “The Bluest Eye – The Hottest Ticket”
- Stanice Anderson, Author of I Say A Prayer For Me Says:
October 17th, 2006 at 7:43 pm
Well done! I thoroughly enjoyed this well-crafted review and was aptly informed. I went straight away and ordered my tickets to The Bluest Eye before they are sold out. You are a very good writer, indeed. Your choices of word combinations are themselves lyrical. Thanks and keep writing.