Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 3, 2008

The Bluest Eye

Hartford Stage, Hartford
Through April 20, 2008
By Bernadette Johnson

“There were no marigolds in the fall of 1941,” begins the narrative to a backdrop of sheets hung out to dry. As the sheets are taken down and folded, a simple set is disclosed gently and deliberately, as are the ugly secrets and the harsh realities in the coming of age of Pecola Breedlove (Adepero Oduye), a poor, 11-year-old black girl growing up in Ohio in the 1940s. Pecola’s family life, such as it is, is defined by an abusive father’s drunkenness and a mother’s bitterness.

Based on Toni Morrison’s Nobel-prize-winning novel of the same name, the play unfolds through a combination of convincing dramatic portrayals and transitional commentaries, offered sympathetically by Pecola’s grammar school friends, sisters Claudia (Bobbi Baker) and Frieda (Ronica V. Reddick), who share their perspectives (as adults) on Pecola’s tragic vulnerability.

Society’s mirror tells Pecola she is ugly. She prays for blue eyes, not to see the world differently, but to be seen differently, like the little white girls that fill the pages of her “Dick and Jane” reader.

Oduye expertly conveys Pecola’s angst through her remoteness and wistful reflection: her stooped shoulders, her cringing, her expectation of rejection. Particularly heartrending is her explanation of disappearing, piece by piece, except for her eyes, which, of course, she “sees” as blue.

Baker, on the other hand, adds pathos and humor as she releases her pent-up anger and jealousy of “white girls” by beheading and dismembering her white doll.

Also offering comic relief are Ellis Foster’s dissertations (as Daddy) on kindling and coal, and Miche Braden’s mock diatribe (as sharp-tongued but compassionate Mama) on milk consumption. There is so much more: Silhouettes, gossiping women, a magician, stardust, Braden’s soulful Gospel hymns and a dramatic storm that floods the stage.

Through it all, Pecola’s inner storm rages unceasingly. She carries her emotional scars with her straight through to a chilling, but not totally unexpected, ending. This is drama at its finest.