NCCU Theatre Through April 20

In the musical Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim reminds us that “Children will listen.” Novelist Toni Morrison agrees. In her harrowing novel THE BLUEST EYE, she reveals how good kids are at soaking up and channeling an environment of pettiness and prejudice.

We’re struck by the innocence with which sisters Claudia (Daja Middleton) and Frieda (Kay Monét), the two child narrators in Lydia Diamond’s 2005 stage adaptation, relate their community’s wounding views of the blighted Breedlove family in general and central character Pecola (Moriah Williams) in particular. Her supposed ugliness is just another unfortunate fact of life to them. When Pecola comes to temporarily live with them after being “put outdoors” by Mr. Breedlove, Claudia and Frieda analytically note her increasing distress but simply don’t think anything can be done about it.

In this, they are hardly alone, as Diamond presents a community that finds entertainment in this family’s struggles. The hardness of Tierra McMickle’s Mrs. Breedlove and Toni Oliver’s Mama conveys a world run dry of kindness. It’s poignant when Pecola takes desperate refuge in her beginner’s reading books, where families are shown as loving and happy. When those flimsy comforts fail her, a child begins a long fall into grim realityand no one thinks it’s their place to catch her.

Under Stephanie “Asabi” Howard’s direction, Williams ably excavates the torments of Pecolaa difficult thing to withstand during the work’s two hours. Though some characters, including Robert Wright’s Cholly Breedlove, seem less than fully developed, the ensemble convincingly portrays a community of sanctimonious gossips. Malcolm Green’s stiff, intriguing take on Soaphead Church presents a trickster figure who grants Pecola’s wishby removing the last support she has in sanity.

All in all, it’s a hellish ride. But then, it’s supposed to be.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Mob mentality”