Director tackles Toni Morrison’s drama ‘The Bluest Eye’

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Andi Chapman has gained quite a reputation for directing successful theatrical productions in and around Los Angeles.

Bombarded with numerous requests to direct, Chapman is very intentional about the projects she approaches.

“I think about what I can bring to it,” she said. “I don’t just take anything. I don’t like to do stuff back to back.”

Over the years, Chapman has impressed with “Native Son” at Anteaus and the Kirk Douglas Theatre, garnering Best Director nominations (Stage Raw & Broadway World), and fascinated with Ebony Repertory Theatre’s “The Gospel” at Colonus, which garnered 14 Ovation nominations including Best Play and Best Play Direction, and won the NAACP Theatre Award for Best Production.

Up next for Chapman, who has a long list of theatrical credits, is A Noise Within’s 2023-24 “Balancing Act” season opener, “The Bluest Eye,” adapted for the stage by Lydia R. Diamond from the novel by Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison.

“I took a minute before I answered them about doing this one,” said Chapman, a native New Yorker who graduated from the New York High School for the Performing Arts, received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the City College of New York’s Davis Center for the Performing Arts and received a master’s in fine arts from the Yale School of Drama. “I had to pray about it. I had to analyze what vision came to me about it. When I understood, I said, ‘Yes.’”

Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” is a tug-at-your-heart drama that tackles difficult issues like the rape of a child, which makes for an uneasy production.

“I wanted to direct this show because of my humanity,” said Chapman, associate artistic director at the Ebony Repertory Theatre. “I choose a lot of plays that don’t have a happy ending. It’s about what hits me. It has to speak to me. If it doesn’t speak to me, I walk in another direction. You have to enjoy what you do. This is a very hard story to tell.”

The story is about three young Black girls in 1940s Ohio striving to make sense of love, sisterhood, abuse and hate.

Published in 1970, “The Bluest Eye” was Morrison’s first novel.

It takes place in Lorain, Ohio (Morrison’s hometown), and tells the story of a young Black girl named Pecola, who grew up following the Great Depression.

Set in 1941, the story is about how she is consistently regarded as “ugly” due to her mannerisms and dark skin. As a result, she develops an inferiority complex, which fuels her desire for the blue eyes she equates with “whiteness.”

The Bluest Eye” painfully exposes the poisonous effects of systemic racism and the heartbreak of shame, all the while retaining the distinctively rich and lyrical language of Morrison’s novel, with its frank depiction of racism, domestic violence and alcohol abuse.

Faced with constant ridicule and abuse, 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove blames her dark skin. If only she had blue eyes … surely love would follow?

“Morrison wants us to understand that racism hurts and what transpires when it becomes internalized by the most vulnerable among us — a child,” said Chapman, an alumna of the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women. “The ‘White gaze’ that we hoped to leave behind in the South, along with slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, has followed these characters north, to Lorain, Ohio. Pecola grows up reading Dick and Jane, watching Shirley Temple movies and ingesting an ideal she can never meet.”

Pecola is played by Akilah A. Walker. The rest of the cast includes Kacie Rogers and Mildred Marie Langford as sisters Claudia and Frieda, from whose point of view the story is told. The rest of the cast includes Julanne Chidi Hill as Mrs. Breedlove, Kamal Bolden as Cholly Breedlove, Crystal Jackson and Alex Morris as Claudia’s and Frieda’s parents, and Alex Metz as classmate Maureen.

“The cast is full of wonderful actors who have charisma, are pure, understand truth and being organic, and who understand storytelling,” said Chapman. “They will jump in the story fearless. I’m proud of this entire cast.”

A huge Morrison fan, Chapman, who first read the book when she was in her 20s, and has since read it several times and listened to the audiobook 16 times, has nothing but admiration for the award-winning novelist.

“I did a lot of research on Morrison,” she said. “She is one of my heroes. She is extraordinary. She was deft in every way. She writes about a community of people who just wanted to get to the warmth of other suns. 

“I love her language. Every detail. She is a master at it. She gives you every inch of somebody. Reading ‘The Bluest Eye’ was like eating a great piece of cake or a good meal.”

Talking to Chapman, it’s clear that when she wears her director’s hat, she’s in her element. Chapman said her approach to directing “The Bluest Eye” material was somewhat lyrical.

I’m directing it as a symphony, a quilt, a piece of jazz,” she said. “It should be beautiful. My vision is a symphonic, soulful quilting of a story weaved in and out. Black people are beautiful. We have to deal with what happens to that little girl. The father raping the child won’t be seen in this production. ‘How’ is what we will illuminate. The ‘why’ is too painful.”

Chapman, named after her grandfather, Andy, is also an actress who has loved the arts ever since she was a little girl.

Her first performance as a child was that of Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins in “Purlie Victorious.”

“My mother recognized my interests,” said Chapman, an adjunct professor of film and theatre acting at Azusa Pacific University. “At first she wanted me to be a doctor. I can’t look at blood. I’d faint. When she finally understood, she put me in art things and allowed me to be me. She allowed me to flourish.”

Today Chapman, who has appeared in film, television and on stage, is a director, an actress and an academic.

“When I got into this business, I expected a lot of hard work,” said Chapman, who directs two or three shows a year. “I expected it to be exactly how it is. I expected to never work a day in my life because I enjoy it. I expected the ups and downs. If you embrace it, your turn will come. I love everything that I do. I get to live in my imagination.”

“The Bluest Eye” will be staged at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, Sept. 2-24, with previews beginning Aug. 27. It is recommended for mature audiences 14 and up.

For more information and to purchase tickets, call 626-356-3100 or visit

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at

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