Quote of the Day: Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another — physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion. Toni Morrison, author of the novel The Bluest Eye, adapted for the stage by Lydia R. Diamond, directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, on stage now at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN through May 21, 2017.
In the post-play discussion after Sunday’s matinee performance of The Bluest Eye at the Guthrie Theater, the cast members talked warmly of their director Lileana Blain-Cruz. “She gave us a safe place to express our emotions,” they said, “to go to a dark place, and also give it light.” Because this story is dark. The themes of rape, incest, extreme poverty and brokenness make you feel uncomfortable. The characters are tragic, and their story seemed hopeless. I found myself searching for the light. I was also reminded that not all stories have a happy ending, and that we need to experience all kinds of stories. Some stories are there for our delight, to make us laugh or bring us joy. Other stories shed light into the dark places. And, we need to tell them all, read them and watch them, so that no one, or their experiences, are forgotten. So that all people know they are seen, heard, remembered, and part of the human experience.
Pecola (played brilliantly by Brittany Bellizeare) is a lost soul in a dreary world, a child with way too many grown-up things thrust upon her. Her parents are violent and distant, suffering from their own brokenness. She is befriended by Frieda and Claudia (Deonna Bouye and Carla Duren, who were amazing) and they try to bring her into their sisterhood. All the while, Pecola sees herself as ugly and unlovable. She longs to look like Shirley Temple and prays to have blue eyes, “then people will notice me and think I’m beautiful,” and take care of her. Just as impossible as those blue eyes and blonde curls, is the love and nurturing she deserves from her parents, her community, and the world.
Ansa Akyea, who was leading the post-play discussion, asked us to describe this play, and our experience watching it, in one word. I didn’t share mine, as it was forming, slowly, and I wasn’t sure if it was right. Then, on the drive home, it came to me clearly: maternity.
Here’s another quote from the novel by Toni Morrison: Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear and when the land kills on its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live.
Why are we so quick to turn against the victim, especially when she is a woman? We say awful things like, “She had it coming.” “She didn’t fight him off.” “She was just a poor black girl.” Where is the hope in a culture that blames the abused, refuses to see it or fight it, and rejects the outcome? The one glimmer of hope I found in this story is in the friendship of sisters Claudia and Frieda as they pray for their friend Pecola, pray for her baby and her well-being, and try to help her. She was not invisible to them.
I thought the production team handled this difficult subject matter very well. The set (Matt Saunders), sound (Scott W. Edwards) and lighting design (Yi Zhao) are crucial in telling this story. There is an eerie overtone even as the play begins. Pecola is drawing houses on the extended cracked sidewalk, giving a sense of longing for home, not just the physical house, but the spiritual dwelling place of safety within a family. I kept thinking, “cracks in the sidewalk, cracks in her soul,” throughout the performance, with a few stubborn glimpses of beauty in the dandelions that grow through the concrete and reach towards the light. When the scenes become intense, the dialogue switches to third person, and the characters are reciting Toni Morrison’s words like they’re reading them directly from the book. When asked about the text of this play, Carla Duren said, “Morrison’s words are so beautiful.” They let the words speak their power.
The Bluest Eye is playing at the Guthrie Theater through May 21, 2017. It is an intense hour and 45 minute performance, with no intermission, and is not for a young audience. The Guthrie suggests age 12 and older, and of course, parents know best what their kids can handle. It is a powerful production that challenges your heart, your sensitivities, how, and who, you see in this world.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: Have you ever tried to sum up a work of art, experience, or piece of literature in one word? What is it?