aNoise Within theatre’s adaptation of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” proves that the literary genius of the author translates from book to stage with the same gripping shock and awe power that makes it a classic.
The Pasadena playhouse has been running the show since August 27. It concludes on Sunday, September 24. Written with Morrison’s blessings by Lydia R. Diamond and directed by Andi Chapman, the play is a must-see production for anyone who is a fan of Morrison’s 30 published works.
Morrison won national acclaim for her second book “Song of Solomon.” But her sixth book, “Beloved,” launched her into another stratosphere, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1987. Later, Morrison reached the pinnacle of the literary world by winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.
But “The Bluest Eye” (Morrison’s first novel) remains as black and blue as the characters. It has never received high praise from the literary world, and more than 50 years after its publishing, it often faces a potential ban because of its sexually explicit content.
“The Bluest Eye” is a coming-of-age narrative told primarily through the lens of Pecola Breedlove. Pecola is an outcast not only by the Black community, but also by her family and ultimately by herself, which drives her to believe her problems can be resolved if she has blue eyes like Shirley Temple. Although it was published in 1970, little Black girls today still struggle with the pressures of the White gaze.
Akilah A. Walker portrays Pecola. Despite her costume of ragged clothes and nappy wig, Walker’s sultry beauty can’t be missed. However, preparing for the role forced her to face her past wounds of marginalization for being a dark-skinned girl growing up in the ATL.
“As a dark-skinned girl growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, I was definitely her (Pecola). In the late 90s, I didn’t see people who looked like me in the media,” said Walker. “They didn’t have kinky hair. They didn’t have dark skin.
“When I did see somebody (in film or television) who identified as Black, they weren’t called pretty. They weren’t the love interest. They weren’t the main characters. They weren’t Black like me. They weren’t Black like Pecola. And I felt that… So, for me to prepare for this role, I had to remember and embody that part of me that felt not beautiful.”
Director Andi Chapman and her production team do a brilliant job creating an illusion of being present in Lorraine, Ohio in the 1940s. Chapman attributes her envisioning of the play to listening to many hours of interviews with Morrison and audiobooks with the author reading and analyzing the stories.
“She wanted to make Pecola central to the story and how racism hurts and tell it through her eyes,” said Chapman, who is also an award-winning director and teaches acting at Azuza Pacific University. “I was just arrested by the book, my goodness! “
aNoise Within is located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena. Free parking is available at the Sierra Madre Villa Metro Parking Structure at 149 N. Halstead Street. For ticket information, phone (626) 356-3121 or visit the website at www.anoisewithin.org for the last show dates.