The Bluest Eye is a play based on the novel of the same name by author Toni Morrison. The source material has faced adversity in schools and libraries, as there have been multiple attempts to ban the book due to the controversial subjects it addresses. I urge anyone to put their squeamishness behind for the sake of the insight that The Bluest Eye leaves you with.
The Virginia Stage Company production of this play is directed by Kahnisha Foster. Great care has been taken to make the play palatable and entertaining without glossing over or editing the subject matter. This play is a definitive example of comedy and tragedy working in tandem, bringing together a cohesive story. It had an motion impact, making the characters identifiable and leaving you with chills at the end.
The story centers around an impoverished black adolescent by the name of Pecola, played by Tabatha Gayle. I don’t want to go into too many details about the plot, as describing the adversity she faces would spoil the story. Suffice it to say, Pecola was born in a toxic environment, and struggles with self confidence issues. She dreams of acceptance, which she has never received because she considers herself “ugly”, even if she is anything but. She dreams of having the respect and love that white girls receive, and prays that her brown eyes could somehow be turned blue, because in her mind blue eyed people are deserving of love. Ultimately, tragedy and a deep betrayal will send her over the edge.
The play uses the characters to narrate their own story, in a sort of third person omniscient perspective. That perspective drives the play, and the actors spend at least half their time addressing the audience directly. Tabatha Gayle as Pecola delivers a compelling performance, and as the protagonist, makes you genuinely care about her wellbeing. The point-of-view character, however, was played by Ja’Keetrius Woods playing Claudia. Claudia takes you on a journey through Pecola’s life, and her own point of view, which is very much in contrast to Pecola. DJimoin Armani plays Claudia’s sister and together they try to give Pecola the acceptance she never realized. Broadway alum Yvette Ganier plays Mama, playing the character with a unique blend of sass and warmth. Beethovan Oden portrays Cholly, Pecola’s Father. In the first act he seems a cartoonish lay-about, but by the second act you learn the dark path his life has taken, and what leads him to the sinister act that the play centers around.
The stand-out performer was Donna Simone Johnson as Mrs. Breedlove. Johnson’s comedic talents are top-notch, and the physicality of her slow-motion fight scene with Cholly made the show for me.
One of the oddest characters in the production was Soaphead Church, performed by Levonte Herbert. Herbert plays this role to the letter, and does a good job providing a good portion of the narration of the play. Then, what made this character so unusual? Well, the script may not have provided ample time to explore the character and his motivations. Herbert performs a long winded monologue explaining in great detail Soaphead Church’s back story, but this is only a telling. We never see any of his backstory played out on stage. His character is touched on and mentioned in the first act, but it is more of an afterthought. He does not appear again until the end of the second act where he sets the finale into motion. It seems he is more clearly defined in the book. He has effectively been scaled down in the play to allow it to run under two hours. As a result, the ending left me a little confused.
The real star of the show was the set. Josafath Reynoso took a simple idea of hanging laundry about the stage, from the rafters, from the box seats and the balcony and turned it to an elaborate display of color and whimsy. The lighting was caught by the clothing allowing the mood to be set for each scene and each reaction. David Castaneda designed the lights, which were smooth and subtle, yet somehow dramatic at the same time. I have to rave once again about the slow-motion fight scene, and we have Sasha Nicolle Smith to thank for it. I did notice some issues with sound, or in particular a lack of it. I don’t know if the stage had any floor microphones, but there were a few times when I had trouble hearing some of the cast members. Also, many of the scenes were somewhat quiet with gaps between the dialogue. Some incidental music could have helped out to set the tone in these scenes, but there was very little of anything like that.
This is a power piece with equally powerful talent behind it. This includes the cast members and the backstage crew. The Virginia Stage Company really knows how to put on a show. There is a reason they received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. It’s because of quality stage productions like this one.
Tickets are available for the remaining shows at the Wells Theater- runs through March 24: https://tickets.vastage.org/