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REVIEW: A Tale of Two Mothers in Radio Play of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”

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Cathleen Riddley. Photo courtesy of Aurora Theatre Company.

Michael Asberry. Photo courtesy Stuart Locklear Photography

The Aurora Theater is finishing up a run for radio of the stage adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Bluest Eye.” 

Just past Mother’s Day, the tale of two moms, adapted for the stage by Lydia R. Diamond, we meet Mrs. Breedlove and Mama as actor Cathleen Riddley takes on both personas. Perhaps the actor’s success lies in the potential inherent in each of us to do the same if given certain experiences within fixed structural policies or historic mapping.

What does Black geography look like? 

Mrs. Breedlove sees herself as beautiful until she believes the lie. Her melanin too much for a world without color, she frightens her neighbors, even other Black people who are trying to get along and so she stifles her fire; covers her flame until it is little more than a spark, just enough to throw her legs over the side of the bed, put feet into worn, yet comfortably familiar shoes until the weight of her Blackness settles like an anvil upon her once proud shoulders . . . and so, into this world Pecola is born– a beautiful brown baby girl.

     With her marriage to Cholly (Michael J. Asberry), an orphan rescued for a garbage heap, Mrs. Breedlove was so looking forward to this new, sweet life. Leaving behind loved ones — a community reminder to the newlyweds that they mattered —  the newlyweds head north to the bare northern region Lorrain, Ohio, where that sense of self-worth is absent.

All Pecola (Jasmine Milan Williams) wants is for Mrs. Breedlove, her mom, and Cholly, her dad, to love her. Constantly wishing to disappear from the violence and unhappiness furnishing all the rooms in her life, the child notices how in the absent body– her eyes are always left. Her soul refuses to shut its eyes. Perhaps the windows remain open as a witness. Pecola wants to be gone completely– she does not want to take anything forward into the fairy tale captured in films with blonde, blue-eyed heroines or the pretty “light-skinned” girls at school who get all the attention.

Mama, on the other hand, is the mother of Frieda and Darlene (Sam Jackson), two girls who are Pecola’s friends. After a fire, Pecola stays with the girls’ family while their home is being repaired. Pecola has an opportunity to see and perhaps imagine another version of her story. Frieda and Darlene’s mother and father are so different from her own. The story takes place over a season beginning in Autumn.

Dawn Monique Williams, the director, says the Aurora production is for all the Black girls and women who couldn’t find a space to be free, where beauty and liberation were synonymous. 

    “The Bluest Eye” is an adult story, even if the narrator is a child. There is rape, physical violence, and death. It is what one might call a tragedy, so take care of yourself and listen to loved ones. You will want to talk with others afterward. One can feel the love shared among the cast, director, and creative production team. The sound design (Elton Bradman) is marvelous and you will probably never forget this story. We need to be gentle with each other. We literally do not know who is on the other side of the mask, but we can still hold each other in love and light as we recognize their humanity as we look in their eyes as we pass.

    As I spoke to cast members over a week in a series of radio conversations, my suggestion is to listen to all the perspectives. Each is singularly enlightening. It is pretty amazing to watch the actors slip in and out so seamlessly. between personas. There is also laughter and lightness within this story as in life.

    In its 29th Season, it is to its credit that Aurora Theatre allowed Williams, associate director, to take it on a creative journey unlike any before. We hope such excursions continue. Toni Morrison’s work, “The Bluest Eye” is among the classics in the Western canon.

Apply the Family Discount code: BluestCNC50 for half-price tickets: For tickets visit https://www.auroratheatre.org/thebluesteye or call (510) 843-4822

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Bay Area

Bishop Bob Jackson Celebrates 38 Years at Acts Full

On May 5, Rev. W.R., “Smokie” Norful Jr. preached the sermon. Norful is an American gospel singer and pianist, best known for his 2002 album, “I Need You Now” and “Nothing Without You,” which won a Grammy at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album in 2004.

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Bishop Bob Jackson, First Lady Barbara Jackson, Rev. Smokie Norful, Gospel recording artist, and Cathy D. Adams, president and CEO of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce.
Bishop Bob Jackson, First Lady Barbara Jackson, Rev. Smokie Norful, Gospel recording artist, and Cathy D. Adams, president and CEO of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce.

From May 4-6, 2022, hundreds of well-wishers came to celebrate with the senior pastor of Acts-Full Gospel Church of God in Christ, Bishop Robert (Bob) L. Jackson, as he marked 38 years of service. On May 5, Rev. W.R., “Smokie” Norful Jr. preached the sermon. Norful is an American gospel singer and pianist, best known for his 2002 album, “I Need You Now” and “Nothing Without You,” which won a Grammy at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album in 2004. Norful received his second Grammy in 2015 at the 57th Annual Grammy awards for his song “No Greater Love,” 10 years after winning his first.

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Art

Marin Fair Competitive Exhibits Open for Entry

“We are thrilled to provide an array of online competitions for our community during our outdoor only 2022 Fair,” said Director of Cultural Services Gabriella Calicchio. “The Competitive Exhibits program is the heart and soul of the Fair and we’re excited to bring our talented community together again to participate.”

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Marin County Fair “So Happy Together!” returns June 30-July 4

Courtesy of Marin County

2022 Marin County Fair Poster depicting a variety of farm animals with the Marin County Civic Center and Marin Fairgrounds property in the background. San Rafael, California — With Marin County Fair’s June 30 opening day just around the corner, the Competitive Exhibits categories for the 2022 Fair are now available on the Fair’s website MarinFair.org.

The competitive exhibit program, which usually takes place indoors, will remain online for one more year and will include competitions such as fine art and photography, decorated cakes and cookies, wine and beer label design, clothing and textiles, cartoon art, exceptional art, poetry and creative writing, hobbies and crafts, and more. The Plein Air painting competition on the first day of the Fair will take place outdoors. The agriculture competitions will remain outdoors and will include poultry, rabbits, sheep dog trials, pocket pets, dog care and training, and small animal round robin showmanship, to name a few.

“We are thrilled to provide an array of online competitions for our community during our outdoor only 2022 Fair,” said Director of Cultural Services Gabriella Calicchio. “The Competitive Exhibits program is the heart and soul of the Fair and we’re excited to bring our talented community together again to participate.”

The full list of categories and entry guidelines is available online at MarinFair.org. Submissions will be accepted from May 6 to May 31 and winners will be announced online during Fair time.

The 2022 fair will also focus on outdoor entertainment including the headline concerts, performers roaming the grounds such as jugglers, unicyclists, and stilt walkers, and interactive art experiences for fans of all ages. Returning fair favorites will include traditional carnival rides, the Global Marketplace, the Barnyard, food and drinks, and fireworks every night over the Civic Center’s Lagoon Park.

Early bird tickets sold out within one day of release. Discounted Fair tickets are still available for adults and teens through June 29. The Fair is a one-price gate featuring 28 carnival rides, exciting exhibits, spectacular firework displays, first-rate concerts and exciting attractions are FREE with gate admission. Tickets are available online only at MarinFair.org.

Headline concerts will soon be announced, and reserved gold circle tickets will go on sale May 16. Reserved concert seating in a special section is $60 per person and includes Fair admission.

Special Admission Days:
Kids Day at the Fair – Thursday, June 30
Children 12 and under are FREE on Thursday, June 30.
Senior Day at the Fair – Thursday, June 30
Seniors 65+ are admitted FREE

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Activism

COMMENTARY: The AAPI Heritage Month Connection

The 2020 Census reports 19.9 million people (6% of all respondents) identified as Asian alone in 2020, up from 14.7 million people (4.8%) in 2010. A big increase was in the Asian “in combination” figure. Approximately 4.1 million respondents identified as Asian in combination with another race group. Do you think there’s another H.E.R. amongst them? Or an Anderson .Paak? More than one?

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Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a talk show on www.amok.com
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. His web talk show is on Facebook.com/emilguillermo.media; YouTube; and Twitter@emilamok. See recordings on www.amok.com

By Emil Guillermo

It’s Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage month.

Go hug your brothers and sisters. There’s a lot of them.

The singer H.E.R. from Vallejo. The Congressman Bobby Scott (D.-Va.). The other half of Silk Sonic, Anderson .Paak, actress Denyce Lawton (“House of Payne”). And let’s not forget The Rock, the East Bay’s own Dwayne Johnson, and of course, Tiger Woods.

They are no doubt celebrating May as Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, because they’re all part Asian. It’s in their blood.

Understand that when people talk about Asian American, the group is a whole lot more diverse and inclusive than you think.

H.E.R. a/k/a Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, half-Black and half-Filipino, is a powerful reminder of our common humanity.

She won a Grammy in 2021 for Song of the Year for the George Floyd-inspired protest song, “I Can’t Breathe.”

When singers like H.E.R. sing passionately about their lives and ours, they embody an ideal vision of what can happen when we take a love interest in one another. It’s all in the heart and soul.

Of course, not all stories sound like fairy tales.

Rapper Anderson .Paak (and yes the .Paak is correct) knows the blues. He was born in Oxnard, Calif. to a bi-racial Korean woman born during the Korean American War. Anderson never met his father. He was abandoned at age 7 and raised in an orphanage until he was adopted by a Black family in Los Angeles.

He grew his musical chops as a teen, gained the attention of Dr. Dre, and made a breakthrough hit in 2018. But it wasn’t until 2021 that he reached true superstar status when he connected with Bruno Mars, another biracial Asian (Filipino, Jewish, Puerto Rican) artist to form the duo Silk Sonic. Their single, “Leave the Door Open,” won Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the 64th Grammy Awards.

Those are the Asian/Black success stories right under our noses. Pop culture examples. It’s more of a thing than you think. Just know that when you cheer Hayward-born Dwayne Johnson or Tiger Woods, Asian Americans are seeing Johnson’s Samoan mom. Or Tiger’s Thai mother, Tida. Asian Americans are cheering alongside you.

Expect it to happen more and more compared to previous generations.

The 2020 Census reports 19.9 million people (6% of all respondents) identified as Asian alone in 2020, up from 14.7 million people (4.8%) in 2010.

A big increase was in the Asian “in combination” figure. Approximately 4.1 million respondents identified as Asian in combination with another race group. Do you think there’s another H.E.R. amongst them? Or an Anderson .Paak? More than one?

The growth today is reflective of an openness in our youth-oriented culture.

But the generation before were race mixers too.

They just had to overcome racist laws like Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 that made it illegal to intermarry. In the 1920s and 1930s, the anti-mixed-marriage, or anti-miscegenation laws, spread throughout the country. Even in California.

And it didn’t just ban Blacks from intermarrying. It was for Asians, too. Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos were all forbidden from marrying whites and expected to marry “their own kind.”

Only in 1967 did the Supreme Court decide that the anti-intermarriage laws violated he Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Loving case (involving the incarceration of the Black/white couple, Mildred and Richard Loving) was later used in the legal justification for same-sex marriage.

Hard to imagine we’d ever take away our rights to marry. But given the current climate with the religious right hellbent on reversing settled law like on abortion rights, we must stay vigilant.

A good way to start is by celebrating our diversity and remembering Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

NOTE: I’ll talk about this on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.

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