When speaking of her acclaimed first novel “The Bluest Eye,” Pulitzer-winning novelist Toni Morrison often says she wrote the story not because she wanted to write it, but rather because she wanted to read it and found that no one had written it yet.
Over 50 years later, the story has been read the world over. The book, banned and challenged by schools and districts across the country (most recently in Missouri), endures as a heart-wrenching, humane look at the intersection of adolescence, poverty and Blackness.
Starting April 21, “The Bluest Eye” can also be experienced live on the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant stage at Ent Center for the Arts as Theatreworks produces Lydia R. Diamond’s adaptation of Morrison’s seminal masterpiece.
“The Bluest Eye” follows sisters Claudia and Frieda, as well as their friend Pecola, three young Black women growing up in 1940s Ohio, as they grapple with belonging, acceptance and beauty. Pecola equates beauty with the blue eyes she sees on candy wrappers and television screens. Pecola prays to be changed, sure that such a gift will lift her out of her lonely world and make her worthy of the love she craves from the broken people around her.
With rich language and bold vision, this story examines standards of beauty, young Black women’s comings of age and the difficulties they work to surmount in unforgiving circumstances.
Theatreworks’ production features many local actors, including Alex Campbell (recently seen in “Cinderella” at the Fine Arts Center), Cheerish Martin (“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” “Little Shop of Horrors”), Desirée Myers (“House Arrest” and “WHITE” at Springs Ensemble Theatre), Faith Angelise Goins, Kennedy Reilly Pugh (“House Arrest,” “Topdog/Underdog”), Lisa Young, RajDulari, and returning out-of-town favorite Calvin M. Thompson (“The Mountaintop,” “A Raisin in the Sun”).
The production is helmed by longtime pillar of the Colorado Springs arts community Lynne Hastings as director; Hastings was recently seen on stage in “Every Brilliant Thing” and offstage as the director of “Lady Day.”
Like many, Hastings first encountered the novel in an academic setting, and while she acknowledges the many difficult themes present in the show, she’s also happy to be bringing the story to this community. In fact, she suggests that the hard themes are an essential part of the story’s vitality.
“I have always felt it was a hard story to hear and experience, which is why it needs to be told,” she said. “It examines the complexity of racism, abuse, family and self-love through the eyes of a child.”
That said, her view of the play expands beyond the tragic elements of the story, and many of the production choices celebrate community, resilience and Black artistry. A set featuring traditional quilting styles and a team of UCCS student dramaturgs intersect with other elements of the play to find hope in a heavy tale. As Hastings puts it: “There are moments of joy and laughter in the play that we will need to hold on to in order show that these are not pitiful people, and this is not a pitiful story.”
Community members can engage more deeply with the work in several engagement forums. At 2:30 p.m. before the first Sunday performance, there will be a Framing Panel featuring quilters and experts from the Wa Shonaji Quilt Guild to discuss traditional quilting in context with “The Bluest Eye.” Theatreworks will also be partnering with Poetry719 and the African-American Youth Leadership Conference to host librarians, mental health professionals, community leaders and artists involved with the production. A full schedule of chats and speakers can be found below.
The creative team includes Jordan Hermitt (costumes), Taylor Lilly (lighting), CeCe Smith (sound design), Michael Ruiz-del-Vizo (scenic/props design), Garth Moritz (stage manager), and Skylar Campbell (assistant stage manager).
Tickets to “The Bluest Eye” can be purchased online at entcenterforthearts.org or by phone at 719-255-8181. Performances begin Thursday, April 21, and continue through Sunday, May 15. Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m., Saturday matinee performances are at 2 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 4 p.m. UCCS students are always free.
Designer and Scholar chats: Before all Thursday performances from 6:45 – 7:15 p.m., artists and experts who worked on the show or explore its themes will give brief presentations and discuss the work.
A Framing Panel on African-American quilting traditions will take place from 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. before the show on Sunday, April 24.
Every Saturday matinee performance will be followed by a Community Conversation co-hosted by Poetry719 and featuring local spoken word artists and poets to explore the themes raised and the future visions.
Following the second and third Sunday matinees, Artist Conversations will give the audience the opportunity to discuss the play with members of the acting company.
Just the facts
“The Bluest Eye” runs at the Ent Center for the Arts Thursdays (7:30 p.m.), Fridays (7:30 p.m.), Saturday (2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) and Sunday (4:00 p.m.) from April 21 to May 15. Tickets are available starting March 17 at entcenterforthearts.org or by calling 719-255-8181. Free for UCCS students. Discounts are available for military, UCCS faculty and groups of 10 or more. See website for details.