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Volume 24, Number 10 — November 2017

Review: Barter Theatre's 'Violet'

Julie Schroll and Jamal Crowelle star in Barter Theatre's
Julie Schroll and Jamal Crowelle star in Barter Theatre's "Violet."

Stage II Production 'Complex, Multi-layered'

By ROBERT Mc KINNEY | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER | July 06, 2010

*** This story appeared July 1, 2010 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***

On Barter Theatre's Stage II through July 24, is a rather complex and challenging production. "Violet" is a musical of sorts, but not in the classic sense. It tells the story of Violet, a young woman from Spruce Pine, N.C., who, in the early 1960s, makes an odyssey via Greyhound bus to Tulsa, Okla., where her misguided faith tells her that a television evangelist can heal her disfiguring facial scar.

As she travels across the country she meets up with a number of characters – most thoroughly unsympathetic and unfeeling – who insult and use her self-loathing and naiveté for their own ends.

Two people who figure heavily are a couple of soldiers. One, Monty, apparently wants nothing more than to bed her – which he does – but Flick seems to share her agony because he can relate to her disfigurement since he has what he believes is his own "disfigurement" in the form of his black skin.

This chemistry between an otherwise attractive white girl and a black man, in the racially charged early 1960s in the South, gives "Violet" a razor-sharp but rather ragged edge that at once makes this play dangerously tense yet, in a strange kind of way, uplifting.

Director Katy Brown has chosen, as the playwright desired, not to give Violet an actual scar, but to simply let the audience imagine what it must look like.

This is absolutely necessary for the integrity of the story, I think, because Violet's scar is much more than physically mangled flesh. She got it as a young girl when the head slipped off an axe her father was using to chop wood, but it was exacerbated by his rather brutish treatment of her wound that included taking her to a cheap doctor who sewed up her face crudely as if it were a "piece of old shoe leather."

After a life of living with her scar and the taunts and ridicule it has engendered, she sees herself as ugly both outwardly and inward, and she sees herself in the faces of others as if they were mirrors.

Performed on a very simple set that with only minimal movement of props has to become the interior of a bus, a church, a television studio, a cheap flop house and North Carolina, "Violet" relies heavily upon the actors to set and maintain the play's story and momentum.

They do this, admirably, despite a thoroughly annoying piano that is too loud, simply isn't right for the era and place, and that distracts from, rather than augments, the story.

A quiet guitar, violin or even a sparse banjo score would work much better. Or, just let these very talented actors perform with voices only. Yes, performing this play a cappella would be harder for the actors, but the songs would be, in my opinion at least, much more meaningful and personal.

People who really like a play that makes them think and gives their minds something to chew over will doubtlessly love "Violet." Aside from a very minimal reference to sex, this play contains little that is overtly unsuitable for adults and mature teenagers. However, the racial aspect might disturb one or two people stuck in the '60s – the 1860s.

Tianna Jane Stevens ("Annie") plays young Violet; Julie Schroll is very impressive as the adult Violet; and Jamal Crowelle is perfect as Flick. Other cast members include Danny Vaccaro, Eugzene Wolf, Tricia Matthews, Nathan Whitmer, Hannah Ingram, Roslyn Seale, Mike Ostroski and J. Casey Barrett.

For times, dates and reservations: (276) 628-3991 or www.bartertheatre.com.

A! ExtraTopics: Review, Theatre