Two perspectives on the Guthrie’s “The Bluest Eye”
"The Bluest Eye" is a provocative play that features sensitive topics such as racism and sexual assault. These themes will be prevalent in the reviews below.
May 11, 2017
Riveting and meaningful
The Guthrie Theater’s adaptation of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” was both riveting and meaningful; it captured the depth of different experiences of racism without being cliché and predictable. Adapted by Lydia R. Diamond and directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, this stage production creatively portrayed three young black girls weaving their way through the intricacies and repercussions of racial prejudice in the early 1940’s.
In rural Ohio, sisters Claudia (Carla Duren) and Frieda MacTeer (Deonna Bouye) befriend young Pecola Breedlove (Brittany Bellizeare), and together, the three girls stumble through the end of their childhood years; slowly, their innocence and individual perspective is tainted by the American reality of discrimination and abuse. They struggle to grasp the concept of womanhood, while also grappling with their identities as marginalized black females in an era of segregation.
This visual recreation of “The Bluest Eye” had a rawness that is rare in a world obsessed with special effects. The lighting and sound were used only to enhance the impact of the narrative while advancing the storyline. Scenes depicting rape and abuse could have easily become vulgar and gory, but instead, imagery was used to portray the severity of any particular scene, successfully evoking thoughtful emotion without distracting the audience with flips and tricks.
The production was laced with metaphors, and the pinnacle of this symbolism was the constantly present yellow marigold. This marigold, while seemingly trivial in the beginning scenes, slowly became a physical embodiment of Pecola’s insecurity.
Pecola strived to duplicate the blonde-haired, blue-eyed “Shirley Temple” who was so highly adored by her society. Through her big brown eyes, she saw herself as a marigold weed, while other girls with sought after snow-white skin were blossoming flowers. These beauty ideals were ingrained in Pecola’s mind and soul leaving her in a perpetual state of feeling ugly and inadequate.
The witty and allegorical dialogue between Pecola, Claudia, and Frieda showcased the realism of Pecola’s internal conflicts. Bellizeare did a fantastic job of embodying Pecola’s childish characteristics while also displaying the depth of her character; it made her struggles believable without seeming whiny or far-fetched. Along with Bellizeare, both Duren and Blain-Cruz did a superb job of embodying the youth of Claudia and Freida. They made the characters plausible and connected the audience to their struggles.
While this play is set nearly 80 years ago, it is still relevant in today’s culture. The perpetuation of beauty ideals in “The Bluest Eye” parallels the insecurities of many young millennials. Pecola is relatable because she exhibits the same self-doubt that audience members, no matter the age or ethnicity, can understand, especially with the prominence of the modern media’s misrepresentation of the ‘ideal women.’
However, while the play covered heavy subject matter such as rape, abuse, and racial prejudice, the play used humor to balance the seriousness of the plot. This increased the likeability of the protagonists, leaving the audience even more emotionally invested in the momentous but burdensome scenes.
The impact of racism and abuse in the modern world linger in the minds of the audience, even after the show has ended. The production is purposefully left open-ended and seemingly unfinished as a reminder that racism is still relevant, and it is not neatly finished. Shows like “The Bluest Eye” serve as a powerful lesson while also tastefully honoring a well-written novel.
It is shows like these that remind us that we, as Americans, and as people, must champion the dignity and humanity of those around us. Nothing is truly black and white, and the obstacles that we face cannot be completely overcome if we do not remember the difficulties that have been faced in the past, and acknowledge what is still happening in the world around us.
Powerful and empathic
On the Guthrie Theater’s Thrust stage, “The Bluest Eye”, written by Toni Morrison, is brought to life. The story of three young black girls growing up in 1940’s Ohio touches the hearts and emotions of the crowd in an astonishing way.
Lydia R. Diamond’s adaptation of “The Bluest Eye” has a way of moving the crowd into the storyline, and consuming them into the lives of the three girls. Pecola Breedlove (Brittany Bellizeare), is a poor, young, preteen girl, who wants to be somewhere else. She tries to make herself disappear from her life by hoping that making herself completely numb will erase her from existence entirely. Her father (J. Bernard Calloway), is an alcoholic wife beater, who at one point, drinks so much that he rapes his own daughter. Pecola’s mother (Stephane Berry), desires respect above all. She demands that her daughter call her “Mrs. Breedlove,” even though she is her mother.
All Pecola wants from this life is to be like the “white girls” she sees. She wants blonde hair and blue eyes, “so when people see me walking down the street, they don’t turn away.” She sees on TV and on dolls, these pretty young blonde girls with blue eyes, and she thinks they are beautiful. She thinks that because she doesn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, she isn’t beautiful. She feels that because she’s not like these “pretty white girls,” that nobody loves her. “I want them blue so my mama love me and I have friends and they think I’m pretty”.
Throughout the play, the lighting focuses on the speaker, but also on a small dandelion. Pecola loves the dandelion. She sees it even though it is a “weed” and “not a real flower,” that it is not beautiful. Although some do not like it, it still is a beautiful flower to others. The dandelion seems to be a symbol of hope and love in Pecola’s eyes. When the love in her eyes begins to fade, she stomps out the flower. She crushes it. Although there is a second dandelion placed on the wall in a crack, that too disappears when Pecola’s innocence is violated by her drunk father.
Pecola has two friends, Claudia (Carla Duren) and Frieda (Deonna Bouye), who are sisters. Their family take in Pecola after her mother and father get into another fight, and Pecola leaves her home. They show her that even though she isn’t “perfect with blonde hair and blue eyes,” they still love her for who she is.
It does not help that Maureen Peal (Caroline Strang), is the most popular girl in school. She is a white girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, and Pecola thinks she is perfect. She believes that because she is white and rich, she is better than everyone. Claudia and Frieda try to tell Pecola that she is not the only symbol of beauty, Pecola does not listen. She believes that Maureen is perfect. But what is she supposed to think? The standard for beauty at the time wasn’t evolved, and the only standard for beauty was being skinny, white, and blonde with blue eyes. All over, everyone saw the same standard, with no difference. TV shows, actresses, dolls. All the same. The crowd feels empathy with the girls, who are struggling to get through an impossible beauty standard-driven world, with no help from their families.
The Guthrie performs this play with power and empathy, increasing their repertoire while providing a moving experience. The Thrust Stage gives the audience a feel of the actors being right in front of them, from wherever you are in the theater. The girls in the play want to survive in a world full of discrimination and hate, and yet, there is no surviving. For these girls, the world was horrible to them. They were just trying to enjoy their childhood.