Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
February 15, 2013
Sometimes, it’s good to get what you wish for. Sometimes not.
In “The Bluest Eye,” 11 year-old Pecola thinks she’s ugly. All she wants is to be beautiful, and to this young black girl in 1941 Ohio, that means white skin and blue eyes. She comes from a poor and damaged family. Early on in Lydia Diamond’s thrilling adaptation of Toni Morrison’s controversial 1970 first novel, we learn that Pecola is pregnant by her father.
“Since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how,” our narrator, 9 year-old Claudia, tells us. That’s what the play, like the book, sets out to explain. How Pecola came to live with Claudia and her sister, because her house was burnt down and her family shattered. For the first time, Pecola has friends, but she remains an outsider, steeped in self-destructive fantasies.
The use of shifting narrators, as in the novel, calls for imaginative dramatization. And in this first, auspicious collaboration between Moxie Theatre and Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company, Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, Moxie’s gifted artistic director, is brilliantly inventive in her stylized staging. Her cast is magnificent, every character a polished gem. At the center is Cashae Monya’s wide-eyed, woeful Pecola , ultimately destroyed by her callous environment and misguided dreams.
The suggestive lighting and sound excellently serve Turner Sonnenberg’s vision, as does the stark, abstracted tree that dominates the set. This is a stunning production, striking and poetic in its harsh reality.
In the same time period, several states away, life isn’t so rosy for Carrie Watts, either. In Horton Foote’s heart-rending 1953 TV play, “The Trip to Bountiful,” the aging woman is forced to live in a tiny Houston apartment, wedged in with her browbeaten son and his overbearing wife. Carrie just wants to go back to her rural childhood home in Bountiful, to see the place once more before she dies. Carefully planning her escape, she grabs her pension check and sneaks out, boarding a bus and nearly making it, before the police and her son track her down. But being able to fulfill her dream makes the rest of her life livable.
At New Village Arts, director Kristianne Kurner and an outstanding cast perfectly capture the unhurried pace of the piece, which is grounded by a breathtaking performance by Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson. Our hearts ache for this vigorous, resolute woman, trapped in the city, longing to get her hands in the soil again. Walter Murray is solid and convincing as her beleaguered son, and Yolanda Franklin is exquisitely detestable as his shallow, motor-mouthed wife.
The sets for the first two acts are startlingly flat. But in Act 3, the ramshackle Bountiful house and weedy yard are wonderfully realized. Warm lighting and evocative sound add palpable texture.
Three women-led theaters. Two fierce, female-centered plays. And two heart-rending productions.
“The Bluest Eye” runs through March 3 at Moxie Theatre, near SDSU.
“The Trip to Bountiful” also continues through March 3, at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
©2013 PAT LAUNER