"The Bluest Eye"
Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven
“The Bluest Eye,” now at Long Wharf Theatre, manages to combine non-realism and realism to remarkable effect. This joint project of Long Wharf and Hartford Stage is directed by Eric Ting, who has created a striking piece. Though “The Bluest Eye” takes on the style of Expressionism (internalized, subjective), the events are gritty and real. In short, this drama of the African-American experience is internal and external, past and present, real and imagined--a marriage of many opposites.
Sheets hung on the line to dry define the lives of the characters and serve as a scrim curtain, behind which the heroine appears, lost in agony and aspiration. As the story moves back and forth in time, actors change personae and serve as a Greek chorus. It is a story told, not lineally, but in flashbacks, staccato scenes, and its own kind of soaring poetry.
The tale, based on a Toni Morrison novel and adapted by Lydia Diamond, follows the fortunes of a little black girl. Pecola, living in a poor black community somewhere in Ohio in the 1940s, struggles with a battling and embattled family. She sees herself as ugly and worthless, a view enhanced by her mother and the world outside. Limited contacts with the white world merely reinforce this view. She longs to inhabit that white world—in fact, to be Shirley Temple, and, in particular, to have blue eyes.
Director Ting is blessed with a flawless cast—not only Adepero Oduye as Pecola, but also Bobbi Baker, Miche Braden, Leon Addison Brown, Ellis Foster, Oni Faida Lampley, Ronica V. Reddick, and Shelley Thomas. They are listed alphabetically, because none can be singled out as superior in this working ensemble of players. If there is any criticism, it is minor—namely, that lines are often lost in their particular (and no doubt accurate) pronunciation. And one wonders why Ting has chosen to depict a rape scene with a downpour. The symbolism is unclear. But no matter. Characters are sharply-etched, memorable.
Combined with Ting’s vision, designer Scott Bradley has created a remarkable stage set which works well for this Expressionistic piece. With a few props, the many locations are suggested—the white woman’s spotless kitchen, for example, or Pecola’s humble home. The sheets, hung to dry, serve both the story and the staging’s technical needs.
Writers, players, director, designers have all come together to create a memorable moment in theater. “The Bluest Eye,” at Long Wharf until April 20, is not to be missed.
-- -Irene Backalenick
Apr. 3, 2008