All Eyes On This Play

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“The Bluest Eye” is a cautionary tale that needs to be seen. 

Seeing the world as it is through childrens eyes is a brilliant way for adults and young adults to connect with any part of our collective story. The tone created by the Playwright who adapted this work LYDIA R. DIAMOND and Director ANDI CHAPMAN strikes the perfect balance between frivolity and sincerity. The joy of embodying childlike innocence radiating from the actors is palpable and so too is the haunting, achingly painful sense of the inevitable loss of just that. 

Kamal Bolden, Julanne Chidi Hill, Crystal Jackson, Mildred Marie Langford, Alexandra Metz, Alex Morris, Kacie Rogers, Akilah A. Walker – Photo by Craig Schwartz

Our narrators Claudia and Frieda, played by KACIE ROGERS and MILDRED MARIE LANGFORD respectively, are given the awesome power of hindsight. They guide us through the troubled waters of a murky past with grace, tenacity, and compassion as our oars, mast, and rudder. They will have you giggling one moment with their precociousness and pensively scratching your chin with their potent honesty the next. Their job is no easy task and they handle it marvelously.

Kacie Rogers, Akilah A. Walker, and Mildred Marie Langford – Photo by Craig Schwartz

It’s through them we learn about a young girl named Pecola, played by a transformative and equally transfixing AKILAH A. WALKER. WALKER deftly captures the humility far too many struggle with when at this pivotal a point in a young persons life. She is the mirror held up to our own human nature that asks us to look at how our behavior has affected each-other. It presents the question, can we see ourselves through her eyes? 

Akilah A. Walker – Photo by Craig Schwartz

One of the things that makes “The Bluest Eye” unique is that it doesn’t try to provide us with all of the answers. It doesn’t spell things out for us. It lays out a scenario and invites discussion. We learn how the events unfolded that made Pecola the way she is, but why did they happen? We may gain a strong sense of that, but it is as if the creator is showing us the utmost empathy when they include this line in the prologue “Since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.” 

This show provides us, by definition of the word, a refuge “an institution of providing safe accommodations” in which we can experience something together that most of us alone can’t handle. Director ANDI CHAPMAN and her team including Scenic Designer FRED KINNEY decide to kindly allow us, the audience, to be the completion of a circle. This formation of inclusion helps us feel the importance of what is at stake as much as anyone performing. Its a brilliant use of staging elements that channels powerful ancient story telling traditions. 

Kamal Bolden, Julanne Chidi Hill, Crystal Jackson, Mildred Marie Langford, Alexandra Metz, Alex Morris, Kacie Rogers, Akilah A. Walker – Photo by Craig Schwartz

This distinctive approach allows us to better connect to the village of characters who fill our corner of 1940s Ohio with vocabulary, music, and dance emanating from deep within their souls. After all it takes a village to raise a child, so why would we not be part of that world?

It also must be noted that most of the ensemble is making their debut on the stage at “A Noise Within”. It’s refreshing to see a theatre draw in so much talent from different places to help share this moving work of art with us. It’s also satisfying to see the ensemble as fellow observers of the stage who can jump in and provide context or comedy right when we need it the most. There really is something amazingly cathartic about being in a theatre that not only laughs together but feels comfortable enough to groan together. It really felt like sharing.

Julanne Chidi Hill, Crystal Jackson, and Alexandra Metz – Photo by Craig Schwartz

One actor who is returning to “A Noise Within” for a second time is definitely a welcome sight. When Pecola’s mother Mrs. Breedlove played by JULANNE CHIDI HILL takes the stage she takes the stage, often commandeering it with her impressive singing voice. She fills the theatre with her oomph, which is actually a term, meaning “the quality of being exciting, energetic, or sexually attractive”. Interesting when you get to know her character a little more don’t you think? Her oomph gushes out of her like water from a high powered shower head. This makes it all the more shocking when her character denies this special part of her and it’s choked off. It’s a testament to her being able to exude that much as an actor that we are left feeling parched. 

Akilah A. Walker, Julanne Chidi Hill – Photo by Craig Schwartz

If her mother leaves us feeling dehydrated Pecola’s father Cholly played by KAMAL BOLDEN leaves us feeling all broken up. Through him we can see that a broken society has broken him the way a cowboy breaks a stallion. Discombobulated doesn’t even begin to describe the inner turmoil he suffers with. When distraught, KAMAL BOLDEN writhes and lurches like a man with an explosive form of cancer bursting outward from the marrow of his bones. It’s terrifying, and AKILAH A. WALKER as Pecola inherits this curse. If there is one lesson to learn from among many in “The Bluest Eye” it’s that broken people tend to create more broken people. 

Julanne Chidi Hill, Kamal Bolden, Alexandra Metz, and Crystal Jackson – Photo by Craig Schwartz

It’s our duty as human beings to prevent this from happening because now we have seen the worst of what could happen. Believe it or not the action itself is not the worst, it’s the aftermath. It’s not pretty. It’s ugly. You see, there are no ugly people only ugly actions and Toni Morrison, the author of the original work this play is adapted from, carefully spares us from watching with our own eyes the depths that human depravity can sink to when their sense of self is ripped away and torn apart. She provides us with a poetic glimpse and Lydia R. Diamond adapts it professionally. 

Turning a blind eye to the story of “The Bluest Eye” would be a shame. We all have a part to play in either the collective destruction or cultivation of the next generation. No matter how bad it seems even scorched earth can be re-tilled. Thanks to the children Claudia, Frieda, and Pecola we are shown how it came to be. We can surmise the why. Now it’s up to us to write the story of what happens next. Before you go, heed the advice of the progenitor of this work. Toni Morrison once said “If there’s a narrative that is the opposite of what God intended, which is that humans live as one whatever color they’re in, then we have to extinguish that message.”

This experience is a great step forward to doing just that. May yours be one as well.

WHEN:
• Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.: Aug. 31* (preview); Sept. 7? and Sept. 21 ONLY
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 1 (preview); Sept. 8??; Sept. 15??; Sept. 22?? 
• Saturdays at 2 p.m.: Sept. 9; Sept. 16; Sept. 23 (no matinee on Sept. 2)
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 2 (Opening Night); Sept. 9; Sept. 16; (no evening performance on Sept. 23)
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: Aug. 27 (preview); Sept. 3**; Sept. 10??; Sept. 17; Sept. 24

Postperformance conversations with the artists every Friday (except the preview) and SundaySept. 10

In addition, there will be Three Student Matinees at 10:30 a.m. on ThursdaySept. 14TuesdaySept. 19; and WednesdaySept. 20. Interested educators should email education@anoisewithin.org.

WHERE:A Noise Within
3352 E Foothill Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107

TICKETS: • Tickets start at $29
• Student tickets start at $18
• Wednesday, Aug. 30 and Thursday, Aug. 31 (previews): Pay What You Choose starting at $5 (available online beginning the Monday prior to that performance)
• Discounts available for groups of 10 or more

OTHER: Recommended for mature audiences ages 14 and up.

HOW:www.anoisewithin.org
(626) 356-3100