I've read some of Toni Morrison's work, but I don't think I've read The Bluest Eye, and if I did it was so long ago I don't remember. But it feels like playwright Lydia R. Diamond has lifted passages from the book and laid them bare on the stage. Characters take turns narrating the story in a way that brings us right inside the world. Sisters Claudia and Frieda (Carla Duren and Deonna Bouye, adults but as charming and adorable as precocious little girls) handle much of the narration, as they tell us about Pecola (an incredibly sympathetic Brittany Bellizeare), who is living with them temporarily. Pecola's parents (Stephanie Berry and J. Bernard Calloway, both excellent) have a volatile relationship, which is explained through flashbacks of when they met and before.
|Pecola growing like a dandelion in a crack in the pavement|
(Brittany Bellizeare, photo by Dan Norman)
The strong eight-person ensemble includes only two locals, Shawn Hamilton and Regina Marie Williams, and director Lileana Blain-Cruz and much of her design team are also making their Guthrie debuts. I always like to see more local talent featured, but it's also nice to be exposed to different artists, and their work is impeccable. Lileana imbues the story with life and energy, balancing the heaviness with moments of humor, and always stressing the humanity of the characters. Sequences of the cast moving in jerky repeated motions like marionettes are a bit perplexing but very affecting. I'm not sure what it means, maybe that we're all puppets in the system with no control over our lives.
|the cast of The Bluest Eye (photo by Dan Norman)|
The Bluest Eye is a classic novel by a beloved American novelist, and it's wonderful and important to see it on stage in the form of this play commissioned by Steppenwolf Theatre a little over ten years ago. We're living in a time of increasingly infertile and unfriendly soil for certain kinds of flowers, and I mostly feel helpless about it. But maybe stories like this will open some eyes or inspire us to work to make the soil more fertile. The Bluest Eye continues through May 21.