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The Bluest Eye

a Drama
CATEGORY :
by Toni Morrison (Adaptation by Lydia Diamond)

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 2455

SHOWING : July 13, 2007 - September 02, 2007

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

In this stage adaptation of Toni Morrison's First Novel, a young African-American girl in the 1940's has to come to terms with society's standards of beauty.


CAST & CREW LIST
Costume Designer Nyrobi Moss
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REVIEWS

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Children Will Listen
by Dedalus
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
4.0
Pecola Breedlove has a problem. She is a dark-skinned, dark-eyed little girl living in world where the highest standard of beauty is the blond-haired blue-eyed paradigm of Shirley Temple, little Jane of primary school readers, and the trademark icon of her favorite penny candy. Add to that the fact that she comes from an “ugly” family headed by a father who acts “ugly” and a mother who looks “ugly.” Add to that a father with a history highlighted by an absent father and an ugly incident that gave him an ugly view of love and violence and how they are the same (in his mind).

This is the background of Toni Morrison’s first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” adapted for the stage by Lydia Diamond, and produced at Horizon Theatre in a production that is funny, heart-breaking, horrifying, and lyrical, often all at the same time. Filled with character and incident, this work embodies at its root the Stephen Sondheim lyric that “Children Will Listen” – that is, if you tell a child that she is ugly, she will believe you. If you let your children overhear you telling someone else that they are “no one,” she will believe you. And worse, if you were told these things as a child, you will probably tell your own children the same things; if you were sinned against as a child, you will pass that sin to your children, magnified a hundred-fold.

And, on the positive side, if you tell a broken child that a miracle will grant her dearest wish, she will believe you.

In the 8/26 performance, understudy Brett Robinson was a heart-breakingly innocent Pecola. She was able to combine a childlike innocence with a somber earnestness that perfectly captured the texture and poetry of Ms. Morrison’s language. Even more impressive was Neal Hazard as her father Cholly. He is able to successfully navigate the razor’s edge of utter cruelty and reluctant sympathy – he commits one of the most unspeakable acts ever to grace a stage, yet make us feel a perverse kind of sympathy for him. No, this is not approval of what he does, it’s understanding. Cholly is not in the tradition of “more sinned against than sinning” – his act is too far beyond the scope of what happened to him. But still, Mr. Hazard has shown us the connection. We see what led from then to now (“now” being 1941, “then” being his guardian’s funeral when he was 15). I’m still trying to understand where that spark of sympathy is coming from, and I can’t.

The rest of the cast is equally impressive. Bobbi Lynne Scott and Jessica Francis Dukes do yeoman duty as narrators who are also children, slightly younger than Pecola. That they are omniscient, that they know what has happened, what will happen, and, to a great extent, why it is happening is an intriguing choice by the adapter (I believe it’s her choice – I’ve never read the original novel). The fact that they act like children, react like children, and, sometimes, whine and suffer like children goes a long way to pulling us into Pecola’s mind and world. Yes, Veronica Byrd falls into too many caricaturisms as the narrators’ Mama, but she is well-balanced by Carol Mitchell-Leon’s sympathetic portrayal of Mrs. Breedlove, a mother so formidable that Percola, her own child, calls her “Mrs. Breedlove.” Portia Cue and Don Griffin are also effective in smaller roles.

The design of the production is also effective. Trellises on the sides lead up to blue lights, staring at us throughout like an accusatory embodiment of society’s definition of beauty** (as well as a constant reminder of Pecola’s deepest wish). Sliding abstract frames and brick walls move constantly to change place and suggest mood. At the climax, there is a remarkably theatrical sequence involving mirrors and echoing voice tracks that simultaneously convey Percola’s dream come true as well as a more practical ambiguity – is she mad if her madness is the fulfillment of her dream? It’s a sequence that works very well, and embodies all the currents of emotion and layers of meaning that have been building for the entire play.

As the father of a young child, I am constantly made aware of how spongelike a child’s mind can be. Comments tossed off as a light joke can come back to bite as a deeply-felt hurt. Words muttered under the breath can lead to a call from a shocked teacher or baby-sitter. And, just when I’m screaming at the gods to make her listen to what I’m telling her, she turns around to subtly remind me that she has been listening all along.

“The Bluest Eye” is a play that is sad and poetic and shocking and funny. It is about a child whose only sin is that she listens to the world.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

** This is probably a meaningless and pointless aside, but, for the record, I’ve always found deep brown eyes much more attractive than blue eyes. But maybe that’s just me ….

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