Theater Review: THE BLUEST EYE (A Noise Within) 

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by Lawrence Lucero on September 11, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles


It’s been 12 years since A Noise Within’s architectural repurposing of the 1958 Stuart Pharmaceutical Neo-Formalist building in Pasadena into a theater complex. For those who haven’t seen it yet, its sleek mid-century interior, smartly decorated with seating and tables, has a lobby functioning as a lounge with attractive displays of past production portraits and theater awards. But the real attraction is the current production of The Bluest Eye. GO! Lovingly adapted by Lydia R. Diamond from the debut novel by the late Toni Morrison, director Andi Chapman helms her creative team, crew, and incredibly talented ensemble of actors to create an exemplary vision which is as vibrantly joyful as it is distressingly tragic.

The Ensemble

The play takes place in post-depression Lorain, Ohio, one of the many northern destinations of the Great Migration of African Americans in the 20th century from rural communities in the south to cities in the north and west. On a thrust stage, the playing area is a central square platform with a deep red base that steps up to a wooden floor. There is a line of tall-back chairs in the rear with a make-shift prop cabinet in the center. The upstage scrim is lit by the brilliant Andrew Schmedake in shades of a fall sunset, light coral clouds against a maroon and plum purple sky. There’s a lone tree on the right with its leaves seemingly rustling in a breeze — the visual beauty of the autumn-colored scenic design by Fred Kinney is true art. Drums are heard as the lights dim and the cast enters singing and dancing a spiritual about climbing a mountain.

Kacie Rogers, Akilah A. Walker, and Mildred Marie Langford

What unfolds is the plot of two sisters, Frieda and Claudia, whose Mama and Daddy, (played by versatile actors Crystal Jackson and Alex Morris) take in their friend Pecola when her father “burned down their house.” Claudia is acted with straight-faced humor and a convincing youthful intelligence by Kacie Rogers who confidently conveys the hatred the little girl feels toward white dolls and white girls in a world that ignores and dismisses her. She handles the show’s narrative confidently. Pecola on the other hand, played with heartbreaking innocence by the engagingly talented Akilah Walker, does not have the strong-mindedness of her friend and instead longs to escape her own feelings of ugliness and invisibility wishing she were like the “blue-eyed Shirley Temple” on the cup she drank milk out of at her friend’s house.

Julanne Chidi Hill, Kamal Bolden, Alexandra Metz and Crystal Jackson

We are told through technically impeccable flashbacks — including some with tongue-in-cheek fight choreography and cleverly staged miming of props, the histories of Pecola’s parents. We learn that her mother, Mrs. Breedlove, portrayed with strength and full-spirited emotion by the gifted Julanne Chidi Hill, had her own fascination with the Hollywood motion picture starlet Jean Harlow, and her attempt to style her hair in the same fashion attracted Cholly, played with sweetness and despondency by appealing Kamal Bolden. We also learn that Cholly’s Aunt died when he was a teen, leaving him alone and lost, and while out one night with a young girl friend Darlene, played with a burgeoning youth by Mildred Marie Langford who also plays Frieda, was forced by white men to commit an act which ultimately traumatized him. Together they had Pecola, Mrs. Breedlove suffering the mistreatment and abuse of birthing in the racist hospital. Indirectly and directly their experiences impacted the emotional psyche of their daughter and her ultimately tragic outcome. 

Julanne Chidi Hill, Crystal Jackson, Alexandra Metz

Through the aural beauty of spirit and song (composer and musical director Maritri Garrett), the floral patterned and time-transporting costumes by Wendell C. Carmichael, spot-on sound design by Jeff Gardner, the jubilant choreography by Indira Tyler, and the seamless wig/makeup design by Sheila Dorn, (which I never once noticed nor thought about throughout the performance), and of course the fluidly staged and precisely realized direction by Ms. Chapman, The Bluest Eye tells a story of harsh truths and the coping mechanisms that its characters utilize to survive the deprecation and victimization of racism in America. Truths such as these are the reason why this novel and others of Morrison’s have been subject to book-banning movements by a segment of the population who are not willing to, or cannot face the truth. Morrison once spoke in an interview of the responsibility Black artists hold, “I say you must always tell the truth. And I tell you that we are not weak people and we can stand it.” Andi Chapman and A Noise Within deserve every accolade for this amazing production.

 Alex Morris, Akilah A. Walker

photos by Craig Schwartz

The Bluest Eye
A Noise Within
3352 E Foothill Blvd in Pasadena
ends on September 24, 2023
for tickets, call 626.356.3100 visit A Noise Within

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