Tom Quaintance, the artistic director at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre, has made his mark on the community in a very short time by telling stories that matter on the theatre’s stage. With the 2014-2015 season, Quaintance is taking it a step further. He not only wants to bring those important stories to the stage, he wants to take them out in the community in order to start conversations that will not only engage the community, but maybe even change it.
With the opening of The Bluest Eye, a play based on a novel by Toni Morrison and adapted for the stage by Lydia R. Diamond, the conversations have started before the curtain has even come up.
“I saw a production of The Bluest Eye seven years ago and was moved by it. It’s simply a stunning piece of work,” said Quaintance. “When I first saw the play, I didn’t know how often the book had been banned. It is a very serious work. It is a very deep book.”
For Quaintance, it is a story that must be told. The Bluest Eye deals with the question of beauty in the African-American community. It tackles the issue of how African-American girls and women see themselves in the face of the media’s standard of beauty, which is typically centered on white women, and the issues of beauty within the African-American community, which is often based on lightness and darkness of skin.
All of these issues are told through the life of the main character, Pecola, played by Kenya Alexander, who is raised not only in a verbally abusive family, but also a sexually abusive family. Pecola is made to believe that she is ugly because of her color, which leaves her dreaming of having her ideal of beauty, which is blue eyes.
Quaintance said it is very important that the theatre articulates to the community why it is an appropriate play for high school students to see this production. He is trying to do that by hosting a series of conversations in the community, and has already seen there is some resistance to the play’s staging.
“This play was adapted to be accessible for high school students,” said Quaintance. “It speaks to their self image and how American culture can devalue young African-American women.”
To help him tell this story, Quaintance enlisted director Khanisha Foster whom he believes can handle these issues with grace and elegance and who has already made an impact through her conversations with members of the African-American community.
At the first community meeting the theatre created a panel, Foster, Alexander and two professors from Fayetteville State University. Their conversation not only excited those in the audience, but also won some of them over.
“There was one lady who was very against the play, but she became so excited that she and her husband bought all of the tickets for the first Wednesday show, which they are donating to students at FSU. They want to get the students to dig into these issues,” said Quaintance, adding that there will be pre-show discussions with the audience before each show with the audience.
Foster was anxious to direct the show. She noted that the play is an example of how great tragedy can still create joy and beauty.
“You can’t process tragedy without joy,” she explained. “You can’t take it out into the world and do something with it.”
Foster hopes that through the production of the play the cast will be able to experience the tragedy and joy and then reveal the truth and experience it very honestly. If that happens, Foster expects that “parking lot conversations” will occur, where people leave the theatre and openly discuss not only the issues of beauty and body image, but also the cruelty and shame that happens with abuse.
While the story is centered on the issue of beauty in the African-American community, it actually transcends color and addresses the issue of beauty in all women. “This isn’t a book or play about black people,” said Foster. “It’s about things happening to people who happen to be black."
Sponsored through a grant by the Junior League, the play opens Oct. 30 and runs through Nov. 16. For tickets and more information, visit the CFRT website at www.cfrt.org.