|“Stick Fly” playwright, Lydia R. Diamond’s adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel is a focused work of clarity that sears right through to the heart of the story about self-loathing, racism and incest. Using Greek chorus elements, the townspeople gossip and whisper about the misfortunate Breedlove’s, particularly their daughter, Pecola (Soal Bamis) a pitiful, awkward girl whose only desire is to have blue eyes like those of Shirley Temple. Befriended by a pair of sisters, Frieda (Tiffany Danielle) and Claudia (Tekquiree Spencer) who narrate directly to the audience, Pecola experiences a brief interlude of childhood normality before it’s viciously snatched away from her.|
Ostracized from the community and ignored by her parents, caught in the crossfire of their dysfunctional relationship, Pecola’s naturally sweet nature makes her an easy target for ridicule. Unable to see past her dark skin and her brown eyes or the ugliness she finds compared to the blonde curls of her idol, Shirley Temple, Pecola becomes an unwitting victim of this impossible wish, granted at the cost of her own sanity. Her blue eyes are only a figment of her imagination.
Weaving in myth and folklore, Diamond magnifies Pecola’s mystical quality, an allegorical warning against narcissism tinged with shame. With bold, lyrical language, Diamond hits on Morrison’s incomparable images and metaphors through vivid characterization, concise scenes and the changing seasons of one year. Janet Miller’s crisp direction heightens the whirling narrative with striking tableaus, powerful staging and multimedia text imposed on a clothesline.
The central, tragic figure of Pecola, however, diminishes in light of the supporting characters and storylines until it isn’t altogether clear that it is after all, her story. Her effect then is muted and not nearly as moving as it should be by the play’s end, which lacks a solid, resounding note. From the perspective that Pecola Breedlove is just one of many small town scandals, the play acts very much like a sewing circle, with a patchwork end result. But much of what happens to Pecola comes through the secondhand chorus of Frieda and Claudia and the clucking hens of three local women chitchatting through their daily chores. Only at the end, when the town misfit naively commits a terrible act of betrayal, does the character find her voice.
The ensemble, having performed together fourteen months ago in this production at the La Mirada in Orange County, smoothly transitions in a few double cast roles and have the excellent timing of a fine tuned orchestra. Diamond thoughtfully gives each character a memorable if not vital scene so that the locals—what with their prejudices, their peccadilloes and personalities truly shine and leave lasting impressions.
Johnnett Kent as Mamma bellows and swaggers with a deep voice that belies her no-nonsense upbringing with patient affection against Shamika Franklin’s hardened Mrs. Breedlove, whose fantastic set of pipes added a little soul to her role. Kwesiu Jones as Daddy and psychic Soaphead Church is sharp and nimble and Willie Mack Daniels is downright likeable in the otherwise despicable role of Cholly. Danika Butler charms with excellent conviction and strong comic timing as the girls’ archrival Maureen Peal. Spencer and Danielle play off each other very well with Spencer as the straight man to Danielle’s exaggerated physical expressions and asides. Bamis, who literally transforms herself in the role of Pecola and is totally unrecognizable out of costume, sweetly portrays the timidity of an eleven-year old girl with absolute authenticity.
Fans of Toni Morrison and this novel will thoroughly enjoy Diamond’s faithful adaptation. For those who’ve yet to read “The Bluest Eye,” see this play. It’s equally as powerful as the book.
“The Bluest Eye”
Runs through April 24
The Miles Memorial Playhouse
1130 Lincoln Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Tickets are $22
--M.R. Hunter (eyespylareviews[at]gmail.com)
Photo courtesy of the production
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