reviewed by Daniel Shock

Violet, this year’s production for Summer Stock Stage’s Eclipse professional program for young adults, tells the musical story of Violet, a young woman on a quest. With Book and Lyrics by Brian Crawley, based on a short story by Doris Betts, and music by Jeanine Tesori – a wonderful mix of country and gospel, the show was originally produced off Broadway in 1997 and revived on Broadway in 2014.   

The story begins in the south. North Carolina. 1964. 

Violet wants something. She wants to be beautiful. This will ease her pain and make her happy, she thinks. She was injured physically in childhood by an accidental flying axe blade and further injured in spirit by a guilt-ridden father who did not know how to seek forgiveness from her or himself. Now a young woman, Violet aims to erase the facial scar by traveling to Tulsa, OK to visit a miracle working TV preacher. She begins her journey by getting on a bus filled with other folks on their own journeys. Two of these are a pair of soldiers, Monty and Flick – one white, one black. Filled with the anxiety and anticipation of the coming conflict in Vietnam, they find themselves drawn to Violet – curious about her injury and amused by her naïve belief that a preacher can remove her scar. 

I wondered throughout the performance why Violet did not actually have a scar.  There is no theatrical make-up. The actress shows no sign that she has a scar at all. She talks about it. Other characters react to it. There are a few possible explanations. The one that seems most likely is that we are supposed to be convinced of the scar through the performances. A quick internet search seems to confirm that this has been the intention of the show since at least the Broadway production. I’m not sure that this works for me. The absence of a scar led me to ponder the weird possibilities, like the Twilight Zone episode where the beautiful girl awakens in a hospital and is pitied by all the other unseen characters – leaving the audience to wonder what is going on until the end reveal. There is no such twist in Violet. Possibly the intent is to place the audience in the omnipotent position of seeing Violet as she is – the physical reality does not matter.  I wouldn’t like that interpretation. I don’t think the Flick character would agree with that position. I think he recognizes that the scar makes her different.  She has been undervalued by society as he has. The physical does matter to Violet. Her worth as a human being along with her capacity to love and to be loved…THOSE do not depend on her physical appearance.  I write this to assure the reader and potential audience members: don’t waste your attention on this matter as I did. It will consume mental resources you should spend appreciating the fine performances of the cast. 

The cast is filled with young adults giving several standout performances.  Elizabeth Hutson plays Violet with confidence and strength. Her Violet is a strong, if naïve, young woman ready to join the world.  John Collins as Monty walks a fine line and gives us a complex character that you can both be repulsed by and have sympathy for. Mark Maxwell as Flick delivers a warm, sweet performance. His Flick connects with fellow outsider Violet, offering steadfast support and affection. Carlos Medina Maldonado must be recognized for his strong work in multiple roles as the Bus Driver and the Preacher. He offers a magnetic performance that draws your attention whenever he is onstage. Leah Broderick’s offering as Young Violet is heartbreaking. Her scenes with her father, well played by Eric J. Olson, are among the best in the show. Amanda Boldt, Gabriel Herzog, Terrence Lambert and Lilly Wessel all distinguished themselves in multiple roles. Finally, Chase Infiniti gave a jaw dropping vocal performance in the gospel number “Raise Me Up”. 

This production, directed by Emily Ristine Holloway, made for a nice evening. The simple set design by Geoffrey Ehrendreich along with the lighting design by Michael Moffatt was effective in evoking multiple locations in both space and time. Costumes designed by Jeanne Bowling were lovely and also fit the period. The music, directed by Ms. Bowling (pulling double duty both in costumes and music!), was enjoyable throughout. There was not a lot of dancing, but choreographer Cherri Jaffee brought out some great moments, notably the gospel choir in the second act. Sound was generally good and Zach Rosing’s sound design served the production adequately. There were a few instances where I felt I lost what the actors were saying or singing. Sometimes that was simply the orchestra overwhelming them and other instances seemed to be a lack of microphone.  

Violet earns my recommendation for some enjoyable performances from a cast that will surely be entertaining us for years to come. I look forward to seeing them in other shows. 

Violet runs through June 15 at the Phoenix Theatre’s Russel Stage, 705 N. Illinois Street, Indianapolis. Tickets are available on the website by clicking HERE or by calling the Phoenix Theatre Box Office at 317.635.7529