Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's review of Lydie Breeze Trilogy Part II:Aipotu
Now, director Raelle Myrick-Hodges delivers a surprisingly unsentimental version of Pecola's unfortunate tale to the Arden stage. The result is still powerfula disturbing vision of how racism and poverty destroy the life of one precious young girlbut without the emotional resonance that makes Morrison's novel so compelling.
Pecola's story is narrated by her only friends, sisters Claudia (Nicolette Lynch) and Frieda (Renika Williams). Pecola (Jasmine Ward) comes to live with the sisters and their parents after a particularly brutal fight between her own parents ends with her house on fire. Pecola's father Cholly (Reggie D. White) is an abusive drunk and her mother, whom she refers to as Mrs. Breedlove (Chavez Ravine), is distant and cold. The world outside of Pecola's home is no kinder. Pecola is dismissed, rejected and belittled by nearly every adult she encounters. Constantly barraged by an Aryan ideal of beauty, Pecola comes to believe that her life would be bearable if only she could turn her eyes blue. The Bluest Eye was written in the 1970s and takes place in the 1940s, but there can be little doubt that there are still little girls living this kind of nightmare in America today.
The entire ensemble is strong. There is heartbreaking vulnerability in Jasmine Ward's portrayal of ill-fated Pecola. Ravine is rough and intense. White is wholly deplorable. Damien Wallace is a potent yet calming presence as both Daddy and Soaphead Church. Lynch and Williams are skillful storytellers, connecting with the audience and giving the production some much needed emotional weight.
Perhaps a slower pace or more judicious editing would leave room for even more visceral reaction. As it is, a litany of colossal injustices pass too quickly in the 100-minute runtime. This production is worth seeing for the powerful story and top notch performances. I look forward to digging out my copy of Morrison's book.
The Bluest Eye, through April 1, 2018, on the Arden's F. Otto Haas Stage at 40 N. 2nd Street in Philadelphia PA. For tickets Call the Arden Box Office at 215-922-1122 or visit www.ardentheatre.org.