Review: ‘The Bluest Eye’ at Celebration Arts

The Bluest Eye: Thu 8pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm; Through 3/22; $13-$20; Celebration Arts, 2727 B St.; (916) 455-2787;
Rated 3.0

Toni Morrison's 1970 novel The Bluest Eye is a harrowing but beautifully written tale of the insidious effect of racism and unrealistic, unattainable ideals of beauty on a young African-American girl in 1940s Ohio. Poverty, domestic violence, incest, alcoholism and mental instability complicate the life of Morrison's tragic character, Pecola Breedlove.

The play, adapted by Lydia Diamond from Morrison's novel, relies upon much of her actual language and dialogue to bring the story to the stage. Eleven-year-old Pecola (Dannyelle Finch in a remarkable performance) is considered “ugly” because she is dark-skinned and has awkward mannerisms. She prays to be beautiful, and that—to her—means having blue eyes like Shirley Temple.

Through a series of events, fate appears to answer her prayers when a charlatan soothsayer (played brilliantly by Tory Scroggins) convinces her that she has the eyes she covets, although some may deny it. Delusional and pregnant with her father's baby, Pecola descends into tragic madness.

Opening night revealed a production that needed a bit more preparation, with awkward pauses and delayed entrances.

James Wheatley directs the play, which (to its detriment) is more words than action, with a feel for the poetry of Morrison's text. Paradoxically, this blunts some of the novel's shattering emotional devastation into mere sadness and sorrow on stage.