San Diego, CA---Beauty they say is in the eye of the beholder. But if that beholder is starring back through his or her own lens and if the message says ‘ugly’ nothing, no one, no how no way can change what the mind’s eye sees and what the ears hear. That’s exactly what Pecola Breedlove (Cashae Monya) believed every time she looked into the mirror.
Everyone else thought it, so why not Pecola. One can argue that beauty is only skin deep, but tell that to a pre teen who doesn’t feel beautiful inside or out and is susceptible to believing what everyone around her says.
Pecola Breedlove didn’t have much and she didn’t demand much. But she did pray, beg and yearn to be white and have blue eyes in the hopes of making her look beautiful, say like Shirley Temple or the blond haired blue-eyed doll she carried around so lovingly.
Growing up as an African-American in the 1940’s, Lorraine, Ohio and daughter of Mrs. Breedlove, that’s what she called her mother (Melissa Coleman-Reed) and absent/drunk/criminal father Cholly (Warner Miller is painful and heartbreaking to watch) was no easy task for Pecola; she was an outcast in her family and to a community that scorned her and her family in varying degrees of degradation because of the darkness of her skin. Love (even though, ironically it’s in her name) was nowhere to be found in or out of her family circle for this impressionable young girl.
Picking up the pieces of her acceptance in the tight little black community in which she existed, neighbor sisters Claudia and Frieda MacTeer (Lorene Chesley and Marshel Adams) adopted her as one of their ‘friends’ going so far as to take her into their own house when hers burned down. In the scheme of things even they fell in with the general opinion that she was ugly yet the treated her with kindness.
Moxie Theatre and Mo’Olelo Performing Arts Company, under the deft direction of Moxie’s artistic director, Delicia Turner Sonnenberg have come together to mount playwright Lynda Diamond’s intense yet charming and oft times funny stage production of “The Bluest Eye” as adapted from the novel by Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison.
Director Turner Sonnenberg’s smart staging of this ninety-minute production pulls you in at the first sight of Pecola standing alone, small and dwarf like in front of (what looked to be) a large oak tree reading “Dick and Jane” where no one Jane’s family will play with her until other friends come along. And as life imitating art, this is where school chums Claudia and Frieda (attached at the hip in a way) come into the picture to play with Pecola.
They act similar to a Greek Chorus, telling the story as they go along. Most of the story telling comes from Claudia, but other parts by both and some speaking directly to the audience. Most of Pecola’s story is revealed in flashback.
At first the tone is lighthearted and sing song. Everyone is on stage talking over one another until the two sisters are left. The two girls come off as cheery, optimistic, and somewhat snippy but friendly pre teens skipping and running across the way from their house to where Pecola is. They don’t seem to have the hang-ups that Pecola has toward the lighter skinned Maureen Peal (Chelsea Diggs-Smith for example) in their community. The MacTeer home was loving, caring but strict in that the girls had their chores. All three are compelling.
The three girls play together and hang together, pretty much on their own, but the more we learn about Pecola from them, the more we fear for her especially when it is announced by the sisters that Pecola is the first of them to have begun her menstruation and sooner rather than later she will have to go back to her own home with her mother and we find out later, her father.
Heartbreaking and tragic as is this coming of age story, it’s worth every effort to be witness to the stunning production values and strengths that these two small companies can bring to the table. Not a weak link in the entire ensemble, every thread of the story resonates perfection.
Cashae Monya is just right as Pecola. She shows us a range of emotions that cannot be easily dismissed. She carries the burdens of a child so young to be exposed to the racial realities of her community, too innocent to be carrying a child from an act of incest by her drunken father and too vulnerable to be taken in by Soaphead Church (a sound Abner Genece) a sort of snake charmer that promises her her wish of ‘blue eyes’ and just too immature to cope. But more than anything, it is all too painful to watch her ignored by her mother from a distance.
As that outcast she captures the heart with her simplicity and innocence and she rises to the occasion. Small in stature but with a smile from ear to ear on a good day, she is captivating and somewhere deep in those dark flooded eyes of hers, she has more to tell than she’s letting on.
From artistic direction to lighting (Luke Olson) to the abstract set design and clever and useful Mac Teeter house (Brian Redfern) to George Yé’s sound and flight design and Emily N. Smith’s 1940’s era clothes, “The Bluest Eye” has everything going for it. It’s sobering and timeless. You won’t be disappointed.
“The Bluest Eye” received its Off Broadway premiere in 2006. Mo’Olelo and Moxie are to be congratulated for this collaboration without which San Diego audiences might have missed a golden opportunity to see this outstanding production.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 3rd
Organization: Moxie Theatre/ Mo’Olelo Performing Arts Company
Production Type: Drama
Where: 6663 El Cajon Blvd. San Diego, CA 92115
Ticket Prices: $15.00 -$40.00
Web: moxirtheatre.com or moolelo.org
Venue: Moxie Theatre