In Southern California, not everyone has to confront racism in the same way as manifested in the South during the late 60s and early 70s. Back then, Toni Morrison wrote about the unsettling self-image that many young black girls assimilated in “The Bluest Eye,” a tale where Pecola dreams of having blue eyes and, therefore, love.
Now, A Noise Within has brought the disturbing tale to life in a brilliant rendition by Lydia R. Diamond. Director Andi Chapman presents the story theatrically through sound effects and lighting, rather than furniture and props, so that the action moves seamlessly to depict the story of three youngsters: Pecola(Akilah Walker), Frieda (Mildred Marie Langford), and Claudia (Kacie Rogers) in the segregated South, growing up amidst the rules dictated by white privilege that govern their lives. Even their mixed-race classmate, Maureen (Alexandra Metz), has more agency than they. These girls become the chorus against which Pecola’s story unfolds.
It is an uncompromising view of the consequences of “the white gaze,” as Toni Morrison called it, and it can be uncomfortable to watch. Which brings us face-to-face with the reasons this book has been banned so often. We have to ask ourselves: Is it better to take a frank look at our past in order to make the proper reparations for generations of insult? Or is it better to put our heads in the sand and pretend that nothing demeaning ever happened on the way to the 21st Century? A Noise Within’s production makes it possible to move beyond our past, whether we lived it, or are recipients of racism’s long-term effects.
So many theatre artists are behind this beautiful rendition: The sound designer, Jeff Gardner, in particular, deserves accolades for populating a bare stage through his effects with the aid for lighting by Andrew Schmedake and properties by Stephan Taylor. Director Chapman’s sensitive direction, enhanced by Indira Tyler’s choreography, brings all elements together. This is an important production, not to be missed.
The Bluest Eye continues through next weekend (September 24th), Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm (September 16th only), and Sundays at 2 pm at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena 91107. Tickets range from $18 (Students) and $28. Reservations: (626) 356-3100 or online at www.anoisewithin.org.