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September 10, 2023:

The Bluest Eye reviewed by Rob Stevens

(all photos by Craig Schwartz)

A Noise Within in Pasadena kicks off their 2023-24 season with Lydia R. Diamond’s stage adaptation of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye. The novel is set in Lorain, Ohio in 1941. Eleven-year-old African American Pecola Breedlove (Akilah Walker) has been devalued since birth by her embittered mother Polly (Julanne Chidi Hill) and her alcoholic father Cholly (Kamal Bolden). Pecola is told she is “ugly”, and she believes it, losing herself in daydreams of having blue eyes and blonde curls like the Shirley Temple she sees at the movies or the little blue-eyed girl on the wrapper of her favorite Mary Jane candies.

Akilah Walker and Julanne Chidi Hill

After her father burns down their house during a drunken rampage, Pecola is taken in by another family while her mother moves in with her white employers and her father spends time in jail. The family has two young daughters, Claudia (Kacie Rogers) and Frieda (Mildred Marie Langford), who cheerfully welcome Pecola into their family even though they don’t really understand her sadness about her looks. The sisters are excited when Pecola has her first period. They know that means now she can have a baby, even though they are unsure of the mechanics that make that happen.

Kacie Rogers, Akilah Walker and Mildred Marie Langford

That happy, fun scene foreshadows the tragedy that follows. Morrison’s tale provides flashbacks to Polly and Cholly’s courtship and marital warfare. She also populates her story with gossiping ladies (Alexandra Metz, Crystal Jackson) and an old mystic man (Alex Morris) who offers guaranteed results to gullible clients. Diamond has the players tell the tale in Story Theatre fashion, playing various characters as well as pushing forward the narrative.

Kacie Rogers, Akilah Walker and Mildred Marie Langford

Director Andi Chapman has skillfully led her talented cast in this process, melding them into a finely tuned ensemble. The language is lyrical and poetic at times, even when relating the darkest details. The Bluest Eye is uncomfortable viewing at times; it’s 100-minute running time presented without a break. There is still joy to be found here, like in the opening gospel gathering. After all the tragedy that befalls Pecola, she still manages to believe. Especially when she looks in a mirror.


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