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Wednesday, Feb 13, 2013

‘The Bluest Eye’ takes a serious look at the meaning of beauty

Mo’olelo and Moxie collaboration tops our coverage of local plays

By David L. Coddon
theater Cashae Monya (left) and Warner Miller
- Photo courtesy of Moxie Theatre

Perceptions of beauty and brutal realities collide in The Bluest Eye, a co-production of Moxie Theatre and Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company adapted by Lydia Diamond from Toni Morrison’s debut novel. In the careful hands of director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg (Moxie’s artistic director) and with the sensitivity of a fine cast, The Bluest Eye is the first wholly memorable production of the 2013 San Diego theater season.

The year that passes (Ohio, 1940s) in the life of young African-American girl Pecola Breedlove (Cashae Monya, at once childlike and haunted beyond her years) is a harrowing one with all too few answers to her heart-rending questions of self and her hunger to be loved and accepted. Her mother (Melissa Coleman-Reed) has been beaten into near-submission by poverty, racism and domestic abuse, and Pecola’s father, Cholly (Warner Miller), commits the unspeakable at her expense.

While 11-year-old Pecola finds friendship and welcome hours of playfulness in the company of a temporary foster family—Marshel Adams and, especially, Lorene Chesley are first-rate as sisters Frieda and Claudia—she can’t escape the ugliness of racism, and worse. She asks the wish-granting charlatan Soaphead Church (Abner Genece) for the blue eyes that will make her beautiful and perhaps free. The price of her wish is inestimable.

The lyricism of Morrison’s 1970 novel is ever-present in this thoughtful adaptation, commissioned by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company and first produced in 2005. The Moxie-Mo’olelo collaboration succeeds not only on the strength of the ensemble and Turner Sonnenberg’s direction, but in its attention to little details that illuminate and trouble the heart as they should, like the Dick-and-Jane book Pecola clings to, a child’s fantasy of the perfect family life, and the blue-eyed-blonde, white baby doll that Frieda mothers and Claudia wants to destroy. In addition, the play’s two most horrifying scenes—both involving Cholly—are managed with laudable restraint, sacrificing none of their shock or significance.

The Bluest Eye suggests that Moxie and Mo’olelo’s first joint production should be the be ginning of a beautiful friendship. It runs through March 3 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. $12-$40.

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Chicago: Staged locally almost as often as Rent, this musical’s about women in the 1920s who sing songs and also murder people. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it opens Feb. 15 at the Birch North Park Theatre.

People Say You Can’t Live Without Love I Think Oxygen is More Important: A musical revue about love. Opens Feb. 15 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista.

Sailor’s Song: In John Patrick Shanley’s play, a seaman who’s trying to find his way in life meets two beguiling sisters and tries to find his way with them. Opens Feb. 15 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido.

Charley’s Aunt: It’s the late-1800s, and two college men want to get with a couple of young lasses. They plan a get-together to coincide with a visit from a rich aunt from Brazil. But, as usual with this sort of farce, things go haywire. Through Feb. 16 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista.

Titus Andronicus: A Roman general returns victorious from war, only to be embroiled in a mess of romantic entanglements, revenge and many severed body parts in Shakespeare’s seriously violent and once-controversial tragedy. Presented by the UCSD Department of Theatre and Dance, it runs through Feb. 16 at the university’s Mandell Weiss Forum Theatre.

Hamlet: The son of a king is fit to be tied in the wake of his dad’s death and his uncle’s rise to power. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it runs through Feb. 17 at San Dieguito Academy Performing Arts Center in Encinitas.

miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb’s Players Theatre, it runs through Feb. 17 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown.

Pygmalion: You know My Fair Lady. Well, this is the 1912 George Bernard Shaw play on which that beloved musical was based—the story of professor Henry Higgins and Cockney student Eliza Doolittle. Through Feb. 17 at the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

The Brothers Size: A young man is recently out of prison and living with his car-mechanic brother when an acquaintance from the lockup shows up and causes some turmoil. Through Feb. 24 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park.

Gem of the Ocean: In August Wilson’s play, a 285-year-old matriarch and former slave named Aunt Ester leads a man down a path to self-discovery in 1904 Pittsburgh. Through Feb. 24 at the Old Town Theatre.

Birds of a Feather: Human actors play two gay penguins who raise a chick in the Central Park Zoo and an opposite-sex couple of hawks who do the same on a ledge of a swanky Manhattan high-rise. Yep, based on true events. Through March 3 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.

The Bluest Eye: This adaptation of Toni Morrison’s 1970 focuses on an 11-year-old girl in 1940s Ohio who’s been led to believe that her dark skin makes her ugly. Jointly presented by Moxie Theatre and Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company, it runs through March 3 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando.,

DNA New Work Series: La Jolla Playhouse is providing rehearsal space and resources to new playwrights developing their scripts, the results of which will be presented in staged readings or workshopped productions through March 3. Check for the schedule of performances.

Pete ’n Keely: It’s the late-1960s, and a successful singing duo who haven’t spoken in five years have decided to reunite for a live TV special. Through March 3 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.

Ruthless! The Musical: In this all-female satire, an 8-year-old wannabe star murders the girl who got the lead in the school play. Then some really crazy shit happens. Through March 3 at Coronado Playhouse.

The Trip to Bountiful: In spite of the objections of her son and daughter-in-law, an elderly woman treks from Houston to her hometown of Bountiful, Texas, and finds that things have changed. Through March 3 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.

Punk Rock: This is the West Coast premiere of a drama about seven affluent British prep-school teens getting ready for final exams. It doesn’t end well. Through March 9 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest.

South Pacific: Love blossoms for two couples amid racial prejudice and World War II in this classic musical. Runs through March 17 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido.

Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill.