Actors Make Adaptation of ‘Bluest Eye’ Sizzle

Until I saw The Bluest Eye, directed by Fred Sternfeld at Karamu House in Cleveland, I don’t think I had ever watched a production that inspired two contradictory trains of thought.

Before I explain those divergent trains, a background of the play is necessary. The Bluest Eye is adapted from Noble Prize-winning author Toni Morrison’s novel of the same name.  The story centers on young Pecola Breedlove, a black girl living in Ohio in the years immediately following the Great Depression. Pecola yearns to have blue eyes, like little white girls. Throughout the story she faces racism, incest and child molestation and, consequently, the book is banned from schools and libraries across the country.

Needless to say, this play isn’t for the faint of heart.

During curtain call of 'The Bluest Eye'

Although I’ve never encountered Toni Morrison beyond the mandatory reading of Sula during my junior year of high school, I felt this production was soft-shoeing around the grittiness of the reality of being poor, black, and living during the 1940s. (Not to mention incest and child molestation.)  I remember having a gut-wrenching reaction to Sula. I walked out of this production saying, “that’s too bad” but otherwise being unmoved.

For this, I feel the responsibility lies mostly with the script.  Lydia R. Diamond, the woman who adapted the novel for the stage, did just that– adapt a novel for the stage. The play had the dynamics of a book on tape. Fortunately for her, she picked a majestic/compelling/insert-positive-adjective-here piece of literature.  Morrison’s lyrical poetry was ever-present throughout the play. Many of my “reviewer” notes included quotes, which turned out to be appropriated from the novel.

After doing research to write this review, Diamond could have picked better events from the story to ensure the play had the emotional impact of the novel.  Or– and I don’t say this often– I would have gladly sat through something longer than the 90-minute one act that was The Bluest Eye.

I left wanting more.

Which brings me back to the divergent thoughts. Seeing the play, I felt I had enough of an understanding of the book that I didn’t need to read it. On the flip side, I wanted to devour everything Toni Morrison has ever written.

The actors deftly handled Morrison’s poetry; it flowed from their lips as natural as everyday speech and infinitely more beautiful.  Their talents turned a lackluster script into an enjoyable evening of theatre. This group of actors was a well-oiled ensemble, whose interactions made the family dynamics and intricate relationships sizzle.  A special mention goes to Andrea Belser, who plays Pecola. Her ability to exude a deep, deep sadness is limitless and made me want to run onstage and carry her far away from the pain.

Belser, center, is able to exude a super-human sadness

Karamu made a wonderful decision putting The Bluest Eye in their black box theatre. The intimate space– which couldn’t fit more than 50 people– places you in direct confrontation with the characters and their terrible situations.  The only problem is that more audience members won’t get to experience this engaging production.

The show continues Feb. 10-26.  Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Several performances are already SOLD OUT. Tickets range from $16 for students to $25 full price.  Visit Karamu House for more information.

-Benjamin Rexroad
Managing Artistic Director


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