Moxie Theatre shows Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”

The author’s novel is interpreted for the stage with spare props but huge talent

By Alyssa Ong

“There can’t be anyone, I am sure, who doesn’t know what it feels like to be disliked, even rejected, momentarily or for sustained periods of time.”

The words of Toni Morrison her first novel “The Bluest Eye,” conveys much of the sentiments of the main character.

The collaborative effort of The Mo’olelo Theatre Company and the Moxie Theatre brings this novel to life on the stage. The question on everyone’s lips the night of Feb. 15 in the cramped but homey Moxie Theatre was, “Have you read the book?”

The audience seemed to be split between those who have and those who had and had not.

I thought it would be such a distraction to be seated an arm’s length from another audience member in the claustrophobic yet minutely elevated seating area. Yet when the play began, I felt completely immersed into the story of a young black girl named Pecola Breedlove who leads a hard life in 1940s Ohio. Pecola hopes that her prayers of attaining blue eyes would give her the love she desires.

The stage set and props, including surprising trap doors and ingenious contraptions, made the play a lot more light-hearted than how the novel plays out. The play is not as explicit in retelling the oppressive circumstances of Pecola Breedlove, but it echoes the same, moderately viewer-friendly reenactment for the stage. In many scenes, the living conditions of Pecola and her playmates Frieda and Claudia, who also act as narrators, echo the setup of the scene. Pecola would stand alone to the side while Frieda and Claudia would frolic around the stage.

There was one scene in particular where Mr. and Mrs. Breedlove were caught in a fight which may have advised viewer discretion due to its violence if it were played out exactly as did the novel. On stage, the scene is played out with Mrs. Breedlove throwing pots and pans in the air towards her husband in slow motion, while the character Frieda narrates their fight using palatable, animated language. Although this artistic interpretation may not be the most accurate portrayal of that scene, the director Delicia Turner did her best to adapt it to the stage.

Another technique used in this adaptation was to have the actors and actresses play multiple roles on stage, such as having Mrs. Breedlove changing into a gossipmonger with her lady friends from one scene to the next with slight wardrobe alterations.

The most captivating effect of the play was the 1940s ragtime and blues soundtrack into the play’s setting. In addition, hearing the young performers Frieda, Claudia and Pecola sing and hum melodies to evoke the time period alters the mood for me like no other prop or lighting could to bring back the magic of that moment to life.

In Pecola’s world of Mary Jane candies, Shirley Temple movies and blonde hair, blue-eyed dolls, she lives out meaning of negative comparisons. Delusion or not, the play ends on a reflective and powerful message that is no different from the book. Can we really love and accept the skin we live in?

The post-show talk with Starla Lewis, a Black Studies Professor from Mesa College, addresses those concerns of self-acceptance and social beauty standards which is a theme that is prevalent not only in the play but in our lives today as well. She remarks how the play could have been renamed under different names besides the bluest eye and suggests “the blondest hair or the biggest boobs,” yet the message sang loud and clear. The conclusion was one of coming to terms with self-acceptance and not judging per the standards of society.