Adapted by Lydia R. Diamond
Presented by Phantom Projects Theatre Group
I See You.
Full disclosure: I am a Toni Morrison nerd. And by that I mean I’ve not only read everything she’s written, but studied it in depth. While preparing for my post-grad literature exams, I listened to her Nobel Laureate acceptance speech relentlessly—easily a few hundred times. Her impact on language and storytelling and culture looms that large, I believe.
So I was more than a little excited to attend opening night of The Bluest Eye in Santa Monica at the Miles Memorial Playhouse. If you already know this text, you will be so gratified and thankful to see this production. If you’re not yet familiar with it, you will devour it and come back for seconds.
From the playwright who adapted the novel for the stage, here’s this: The Bluest Eye is the story of a young African American girl and her family who are affected in every direction by the dominant American culture that says to them, ‘You’re not beautiful; you’re not relevant; you’re invisible; you don’t even count.’
Yet beauty and relevance and meaning begin even before the actors take the stage with brilliant set design by Marika Stephens; it immediately sets the tone, time, and place as does the wardrobe from Costume Designer Kathy Gillespie. While the story is told to the audience by the main narrators, more importantly the story is shown to us by the language of the looks on their faces, a shift in their eyes, by the sound of their voices, and the flow of their body movements. Director Janet Miller plays a subtle, restrained hand with this powerful material and it is all the better for it. She doesn’t let anyone overact.
Tekquiree Spencer and Tiffany Danielle play two young sisters, Claudia and Frieda, who are hostess to the lost and marginalized Pecola Breedlove played by Sola Bamis. Claudia and Frieda carry the bulk of the narration and are funny, sparkly and vibrant—because they are seen and loved by their family and community. They know that they matter. In contrast, Bamis plays Pecola so deeply that she becomes invisible, even though you can see her standing there before your very eyes.
The girls are products of their circumstances, of course, are products of us as a society and nation. The parents and adults in their small world have their own issues to deal with, and their ability to do so (or not) only impacts the next generation. Kwesiu Jones does double duty and shows his range by playing both the irrepressible, unforgettable Soaphead Church and the stern but loving Daddy. Johnnett Kent plays Mamma with such force I was tempted to run home and make my bed. Pecola’s parents are played to icy, broken perfection by Shamika Franklin (Mrs. Breedlove) and Willie Mack Daniels (Cholly). Danika Butler as Maureen Peal dances along the narrow edge of being the girl we all want to admire—or do we?
In Morrison’s Nobel Laureate speech, she says that language should “tell us what it is to be a woman so that we may know what it is to be a man. What moves at the margin. What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company.”
This expression of The Bluest Eye tells us, shows us, helps us understand. Phantom Projects Theatre Group specializes in plays based on classic pieces of literature. From here on out, I vow to see every one.
Make your ticket reservations by calling (714) 690-2900 or on line at www.PhantomProjects.com
The Miles Memorial Playhouse
1130 Lincoln Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Free parking just down the street. Check this link.
Now through Sunday, April 24
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Sundays at 7 p.m.
There will be no evening performance on closing night, April 24th (Easter Sunday)
Running time is about 90 minutes with no intermission
Mature themes. Recommended for ages 12 and up.
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