Moody atmospherics are among Stern’s strengths as a director — witness his masterful opening-up of Adam Rapp’s monologue Nocturne. Here he flashes between memorable images from Kelly’s film and a few of his own, between the film’s soundtrack and his and David Remedios’s delicately spooky sound design. But the director can’t duplicate the movie, and he doesn’t try to transform it. He does maintain its not-quite-logical momentum and its Breakfast Club component, in which ’80s high-school life and hierarchy are sent up with a vengeance. (ART stalwart Karen MacDonald is hilarious as sugary, censorious gym teacher Kitty Farmer.) Folks unfamiliar with the movie will almost certainly be bewildered by the penultimate sequence of events involving masked robbers and a hit-and-run. But even as Darko initiates are scratching their heads, they may be moved by the ending, which is more mournful live than on film, with the sacrificial lamb centerstage on a gurney as “Mad World” plays itself out, assuring us that the dreams in which he’s dying are the best he ever had.
Company One is on a roll, following its terrific area premiere of Mr. Marmalade with a lively and touching production of Lydia R. Diamond’s flavorful adaptation of Toni Morrison’s first novel, the 1970 THE BLUEST EYE (at the BCA Plaza through November 17). Diamond, who is both a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists and a Huntington Playwriting Fellow, has expertly encapsulated Morrison’s novel, retaining not only its devastating if heavy-handed story of a young girl destroyed by racial self-loathing in 1941 Ohio but also its sensual, lyrical prose, from opening metaphor — about marigolds that fail to flourish, as does the child born of incest when Pecola Breedlove’s father “dropped his seeds in his own plot of black dirt” — to doleful, poetic conclusion.
Following the seasons while flitting about in time to supply backstory, Diamond frames the tale of 11-year-old Pecola, who wears an ugliness “that does not belong to her” and covets the blue eyes of pretty, popular Shirley Temple. As in the novel, the primary narrator is Claudia MacTeer, who with her sister, Frieda, befriends the rejected Pecola. Claudia’s attitude toward pink-skinned, yellow-haired Shirley is hardly reverential — just ask the doll she decapitates. But the main disparity between Pecola’s hard life and the MacTeers’ is that the latter live in a home permeated by “Love, thick and dark as alaga syrup.”
The three girls form the fulcrum of the theater piece, though Diamond provides ameliorating exposition for Pecola’s white-worshipping mother and confused, parentless dad as well as for Soaphead Church, the “reader, adviser, and interpreter of dreams” who promises Pecola “truly-bluely” peepers. For Company One, under Summer L. Williams’s assured direction, the three adolescents are brought to vibrant life, whether squabbling, conspiring, or reciting from the Dick-and-Jane primers that hardly reflect their reality. Tasia A. Jones and Marvelyn McFarlane constantly, effectively upstage each other as the MacTeers, and Adobuere J. Ebiama brings a prim inwardness to the eager, damaged Pecola. There are tough-loving performances by Christina Bynoe and Aaron Andrade as the elder MacTeers. Talaya Freeman and Christopher Long bring extenuating woundedness to Pecola’s parents. And Rachael Hunt shines in several roles, among them a Shirley Temple avatar sporting long white gloves and a Chucky-like smile.