The Bluest Eye
Bradley's set includes a freestanding grid which supports a number of clotheslines. This is 1940s America. Bradley's construct could portray either a rural or more urban locale. Translucent bed sheets hang down as if to protect the audience, before curtain, from the proceedings. When the shields are removed, the performance space becomes stark. The floorboards, multi-tiered, are painted with childlike drawings. Pecola (Adepero Oduye), an adolescent black girl, wishes mightily for blue eyes, which she believes will enable her to be beautiful. Claudia (Bobbi Baker) is a friend living nearby; she and her sister Frieda (Ronica V. Reddick) narrate portions of the script. The sisters are lively, even bold. They tell us that Pecola has experienced incest. Pecola is so touching that she appears breakable. She calls her mother (Oni Faida Lampley) Mrs. Breedlove. Pecola is eventually violated by her father, Cholly (Leon Addison Brown).
Poignant, sad and gracefully written by Lydia Diamond, The Bluest Eye is most emotional. It's about voices which include those of writers Morrison and Diamond as well as those of many characters. Pecola is sweet and the neighboring sisters perceptive. Mama (Miche Braden) is fiery and fierce as she oversees the lives of her daughters, Claudia and Frieda. Claudia's presence is pivotal. She is given a white baby doll for Christmas and responds by detaching its legs and head. That action speaks volumes.
Actress Oduye is lovely and there's an irony here since Pecola desperately hopes God will make her invisible. She then asks that she be granted blue eyes so that people close to her will think she's pretty. While Pecola is at the play's center, the sisters also stir one's soul.
Director Eric Ting moves about the focus accordingly among the eight person cast. Michael Bodeen and Rob Milburn supply music and many of the performers demonstrate rich, resonant voices. As they sing, the stage is filled with pervasive spirit.
Five of the actors have multiple roles, and the sequencing, which occurs for ninety minutes without intermission, is occasionally confusing. Still, it's important to have a number of characters rather than, for example, just four who might tell the story. The Bluest Eye is complicated and non-linear. The play includes many scene shifts as it develops. The import of the piece is both literal and symbolic.
This drama tells of a troubled time and a victimized young woman. She is coming of age during a period when children's white characters, Dick and Jane (from the children's book), were envied. Pecola persuades herself that if she had blue eyes, her life would change – all for the better. Thematically, The Bluest Eye makes it manifest that that this quest for physical beauty is illusory.
The Bluest Eye runs through March 23rd at Hartford Stage. For ticket information call (860 527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org. The production transfers to Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven from March 28th through April 20th. Please call (203) 787-4282 or see www.longwharf.org for further details.
- Fred Sokol