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PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of The Bluest Eye on Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 8 P.M. was as stimulating as the Pulitzer-prize winning novel written by Toni Morrison. Trezana Beverley, the director, effectively brings Morrison’s dramatic plot to the stage with the same fearless attitude that encircles the novel. The consummate acting is a direct reflection of the competence of Lydia R. Diamond, whose adaptation of the novel masterfully elicits the story’s main ingredients of racism and sexual abuse. Despite its few flaws, The Bluest Eye, presented at the Paul Green Theatre at the UNC campus is an exceptional play with superlative acting and a diligent crew.
The first act of the play, although slow at times, serves as an expositional role by introducing the audience to the characters. Diamond’s use of a flashback throughout the bulk of the play helps signify Pecola as the focal point. Allison Reeves and Georgia Southern, stepping out of their primary roles (Claudia and Frieda, respectively) to narrate to the audience, explain that the play’s flashback serves to show “how” Pecola becomes that way, “since why is too difficult to handle.” Many of the scenes in the first act are lengthy and irrelevant to the message the play intends to send. Mr. MacTeer’s discussions to his daughters about stockpiling wood and maintaining ventilation in the house serve no purpose to the play. Despite the prolonged first act, there is sufficient movement of plot to set up a compelling second act. Several overpowering scenes highlight the second act of the play. Much of the drama associated with Morrison’s novel occurs in the second act, such as the downfall of Cholly (Adrian Bailey) and dog’s tragic death.
The crew thrives in their respective roles in developing the play. Before the play opens, the sound designer, Michèl Marrano, sets the mood by playing primitive music which adeptly enhances the play’s legitimacy. The scene designer, Robin Vest, plays a vital role in developing the appearance of the play. Vest cleverly uses the screened house to serve as two houses—the MacTeer’s and the Breedlove’s. However, Beverley does not limit the acting to take place only at the house. Much of the acting takes place outside the house and even offstage. Beverley uses the theater space wisely to create different locations. To show the differences between the houses, the lighting designer, Peter West, skillfully dims the light in the Breedlove’s house, perhaps to symbolize the drama and troubles associated with that household. Furthermore, West reduces the light during the dramatic scenes while aptly keeping the light centered on the focal points. The costumes, designed by Anne Kennedy, are characteristic of the clothing worn during the 1940s. Kennedy’s costumes are essential in the portrayal of Danika Williams (Pecola), Georgia Southern (Frieda), and Allison Reeves (Claudia) as adolescents.
Although the crew’s efforts are worthy of attention, the first class acting, which is undoubtedly ovation-worthy, outshines all the other aspects of the play. Danika Williams is phenomenal in playing the awkward and youthful Pecola Breedlove, whose only wish is to be liked and recognized by others. The dark-skinned Pecola, who is ignored by white people and even individuals of her own race, believes that the key to being adored in society is to have blonde hair and blue eyes such as her idol, Shirley Temple. The scene where Williams, as Pecola, goes to Mr. Yacobowski’s store to buy Mary Jane candy is particularly striking. Williams remarks to the audience that Mr. Yacobowski will not talk to her, nor will he touch her hand. During this scene, Allison Reeves, narrating the scene, discusses the “absence of human recognition” Pecola endures while she is at the store. However, the concerns briefly vanish as Pecola finds solace in the blue eyes of the young girl on the candy wrapper. Williams also acts as a dying dog after being poisoned, utilizing animal-like sounds and movement to depict the role of the dying dog with ease. Williams displays her versatility and great range as an actress to move effortlessly from human to animal and captivate the audience while doing so.
Allison Reeves and Georgia Southern, playing Claudia and Frieda, respectively, give youthful performances with vigor. Reeves and Southern both give superb and persuasive performances with their charming whims and sprightly charisma. Consequently, their impatience and liveliness generate several humorous scenes. Claudia and Frieda, two sisters who are friends with Pecola, step out of their roles to narrate the play and give insight to the audience. Their narrating is imperative to the play as they emphasize the grave effects of racism that the play intends to extend to the viewers. They seldom leave the stage and serve as omniscient spectators to Pecola’s misfortunes.
Cholly, played by Adrian Bailey, shows his acting proficiency during the emotional scene when he feels affection for his daughter Pecola. Tragically, Cholly only knows how to show affection through violence. Bailey’s stunning portrayal of Cholly reveals to the audience how racism has its lasting effects. Cholly is held at gunpoint by two white individuals to engage in sexual intercourse. Diamond’s adaptation of Morrison’s novel clearly shows Cholly’s downfall to a dangerous alcoholic after this appalling incident. Joanna Rhinehart gives a complete performance as she plays a troubled Mrs. Breedlove. Mrs. Breedlove tries to find consolation in her rocky life by going to the movie theater. She, like her daughter Pecola, idolizes white females that society deems beautiful. Rhinehart is convincing in showing that Mrs. Breedlove has immense respect for white individuals. While Rhinehart works at her servant’s house, she chastises and hits Pecola while gently calming the white girl. Collectively, Bailey and Rhinehart effectively and brilliantly exhibit a troubled family, The Breedloves, whose lives have been ruined by direct and indirect racism. Kathryn Hunter Williams’s vivid portrayal of Mama is essential in demonstrating the differences in the two families. Hunter Williams’s portrayal of a mother varies vastly from Rhinehart’s role as Pecola’s mother. The swift and sharp-tongued role that Hunter Williams plays generates several laughs from the audience. Furthermore, the clear sympathy she feels for wrongly hitting Frieda shows the concern of a caring and loving mother.