THEATRE REVIEW: “Violet”

The Douglas Anderson Theatre & Instrumental Department presented the school’s annual musical on November 20, 21, 22, 2014 on its Southside Jacksonville campus with Jeanine Tesori & Brian Crawley’s winsome musical “Violet.”Violet” is based on a 1973 short story by Doris Betts entitled “The Ugliest Pilgrim.” In 1981 it was adapted as a film and won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. The musical debuted Off-Broadway in 1997.

The story, set in 1964, is that of Violet (Katie Sacks), who embarks on a Greyhound Bus journey from her home in the mountains in North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is twenty-five years old and on a quest to seek the help of a faith-healing television preacher, trusting he has the power to change her disfigured face.

At the age of thirteen, Violet suffered a terrible accident with an axe, and because of poor medical treatment has a grotesque scar that appears to split her face. She truly believes that through the intervention of the preacher, with God’s help, she can be beautiful, with changes to her skin and features that resemble film stars she admires.

While waiting at the bus stop, Violet meets two soldiers on their way to Fort Smith, Arkansas to await orders; they are expecting deployment to Vietnam. She shares the long bus ride with the handsome paratrooper Monty (Dylan Tossavainen), who is white, and his friend, Sergeant Flick (Kaman Saxon), who is black. Besides talking, they play poker. While on the trip there are a number of flashbacks to Violet’s younger days before and after the accident. Young Vi (played by Emily Suarez) was taught to play poker by her father (Brad Betros) to improve her math skills.

Violet and the soldier’s journey takes them to Kingsport, Nashville, and Memphis where they party on Beale Street. A changing billboard announces each bus stop along the route. Violet, even though disfigured, is very attractive and both males are enamored with her. She seems to relate more to Flick than to Monty, as they have a shared experience, that of being ostracized because of appearance: Violet because she has a scarred face, Flick because he is black in a segregated society.

The meeting with the television evangelist is a confrontational one, as he is a fraud who may have cured various ailments during television broadcasts but has little to offer her. Nevertheless, she leaves convinced she has a new face, although she avoids looking into a mirror until she makes her way back to her two army friends. Violet first encounters Monty, and is at first devastated when he tells her that her face is unchanged, and asks her to spend time with him before he leaves for Vietnam. But Violet has, somehow, as a result of her quest, experienced interior changes that allow her to accept the reality of her appearance, however disfigured, and focus on her inner strengths, and chooses to remain with Flick, who professes his love for her.

The musical has perhaps two dozen songs. The program had no song list and all the numbers tell a story with titles like “On My Way,” “Anyone Would Do,” and “In The Chapel,” to name a few. Much of the singing is by Katie Sacks in a tour-de-force performance as Violet. She belts out the vocals with astounding passion and expertise. The music is a mix of styles, with honky-tonk rock, gospel, country, and even the blues.

Mr. Tossavainen and Mr. Saxon both have fine voices in the major supporting roles. Saxon especially brought down the house with the stand-up-and-shout gospel selection “Let it Sing.”

One of the most electrifying scenes was at the church in Tulsa, featuring a fire and brimstone sermon by the preacher (Connor Driscoll). He was backed up by a large and very animated chorus.

Others in this cast performing in several roles and in the choir included Sophie Luedi, Veronica Vale, Sissy Hofaker, Zoie Vowell, Jasmine Walters, Jacob Rubin, Cole Fowler, Logan Smith, Mallory Wintz, Ronald Ferraco, Austin Staples, Liam Wirsansky, Gino Liardo, Avery Sedlacek, Alec Cosentino, Logan Vacarro, Leila Ninya, Victoria Wakefield, Ana Puig, Brandon Leoporati, Kaila Justice, Joel Oliver, Lauren Bell, Hadley Parrish-Cotton, Josh Johnson, and Taylor Payne.

Scenic Designer Nolan O’Dell had a raked stage on the left of the stage, with set pieces brought on and off. It quickly converted to a bus stop, church, hotel, bar, and a diner. A billboard featured changing postcards and scenic photos of the Greyhound route.

The nine-piece orchestra was conducted by Ted Shistle and Brian Griffin. Musicians included Karl Singletary, Violin; Claudia Beshears, Cello, Andre Delellis; Keyboards, Viann Wu, Christy Shelenberger, Tatiana RusliChristy ShelenbergerViann Wu; Guitars, Justin Dalisay, Max Hogshead; Drums, Christina Smith.

The Production Staff Included Director Dr. Lee Beger, Vocal Director Cathy Murphy Giddens, Lighting Designer Nick Ciccarello, Costume Designer Sally Pettigrew and Choreographer Kevin Covert.

Douglas Anderson is noted for staging wonderful productions, and The Dual Critics as well as the full house audiences for the three nights of this show were swept up in this searing saga because of the exceptional vocal talents of the cast and the music they sang so vibrantly.

Future 2015 productions include “The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee,” February 15-16 and “Metamorphosis,” April 15 – 25. For additional information, see www.da-arts.org.

 

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

october, 2021

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