by Cesca Janece Waterfield | Twitter @cescasings
When April Jones gathered her family together as a child, the girl had not only organized the close-knit group’s entertainment, she’d cast herself in the starring role. Later, after struggling with a misguided director as a theater student at Spelman College, she didn’t complain, but turned her focus to developing as a director.
In the stage adaptation of the novel by Toni Morrison, “The Bluest Eye,” Director Jones continues to balance courage and finesse. While the novel’s prose is often breathtaking, many of the issues it addresses – racism, rape, incest – test any director who seeks to bring the story to the stage. In the co-production between Theatre VCU and Barksdale Theatre, Jones and the cast exhibit equal parts courage in confronting tough subjects and finesse in locating the heart of the story in its humanity. To understand the era in which “The Bluest Eye” is set, April had many conversations with her grandmother, before the woman passed away in March at 99 years old.
The Story: The play was adapted for the stage by Lydia Diamond. Set in the 1940s, it focuses on eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove, who blames her dark skin for the abuse she suffers at the hands of her schoolmates and family. She prays for blue eyes, so that they will love her. “The Bluest Eye” is a tragic yet beautiful story of childhood innocence lost to racism, trauma and narrow-minded ideas of beauty.
April’s childhood in Buffalo: “Whenever we would get together as a family,” April says, “I would put together the program. We always had the Jackson 5 as part of the program and I was always Michael. Nobody else could be Michael. The rest of them got to be Tito and Jermaine and Janet. I was always Michael Jackson. We did West Side Story. Whenever we’d go see a play, if I liked it, I would find a script and pull all the scenes from it and then we’d make the family sit down and watch.”
Turning to directing: “I thought I was going to go into medicine because my mother was a physician, my grandfather was a physician, my aunt was a nurse, my uncle was a dentist,” April says. “When I was 15, I decided acting was what I was going to do. I never veered. By the time I think when I was a freshman in college, I started looking more at directing, primarily because I had been in a couple shows and in my opinion, I didn’t think the director knew what they were talking about. The shows would kind of be like a hot mess. So I started looking into it more.”
Challenges she faced with this production: “Narrative is not theatre,” April says. “A novel is prose, whereas theatre is action. One of the biggest issues I have is how do I take this narrative and make it action? It’s been a challenge to find that balance.”
Drawing inspiration from her grandmother: “I did use my grandmother as a source. I talked to her about the time and the place. She was born in 1911. Her experiences would have been very similar. She was born in North Carolina. [Characters in the play] were born in Georgia and Alabama. My grandmother was one of many African Americans at the time who came north during the Great Migration. I’ve known for almost a year that I was directing the show, so I’ve done a lot of research. But there were parallels.”
Being a working artist and mother of two: “I firmly believe that in order to be a good human being or good citizen but also a good parent, your children have to see that you’re passionate about something,” April says. “They have to see you pursuing something that means something to you. That’s how they learn to follow their dreams.”
The Bluest Eye runs through April 24 at the Raymond Hodges Theatre, W.E. Singleton Center for Performing Arts, 922 Park Ave., Richmond Tickets $10-$25 by calling 828-6026 or at www.BarksdaleRichmond.org.
Quick Glimpse of April Jones
• MFA in Theatre from Virginia Commonwealth University
• “Theatre Person of the Year” and “Director of the Year,”
2002 Creative Loafing Theatre Awards (North Carolina)
• Artist-in-Residence, University of Richmond ‘09-‘10
• Ruby Dee hired April as a personal assistant based on
working with her on a production of “The Glass Menagerie”
• Lives in Buffalo, New York.