Wednesday, January 20, 2016

SpeakEasy Stage Company Presents "Violet" - A Boston Premiere And An Uplifting Journey

Director Paul Daigneault steers the bus with a steady hand in this Boston premiere of the musical tale of a young woman whose disfiguring scar defines her life - until it does not.  Violet (Alison McCartan) journeys by Greyhound bus from North Carolina to Oklahoma to visit a healing preacher (John F. King) to beg for a miracle to remove the scar from her face.  But her real journey is an interior one as she comes to see herself in new ways as she interacts with passengers on the bus who treat her with grace and affection, something for which she has thirsted since a wayward ax head changed her looks and her life.  Two soldiers, one black and one white, develop strong ties with her that she has a hard time understanding and accepting.  Flick (Dan Belnavis) clearly is drawn to Violet, but she initially seems more at ease with his white buddy Monty (Nile Scott Hawver).

As Violet makes the trek from the east to the the heartland, the musical styles that Composer Jeanine Tesori emulates follow the geography: folk, country, R&B, and Gospel.  Ms. Tesori places her musical fingerprints on each genre, and the resulting score is a gorgeous compilation that tells the story of Violet's pilgrimage within herself.  Musical Director Matthew Stern leads seven musicians whose virtuosity and blend are a highlight of this production.

Ultimately, Violet learns that what needs healing is not her face, but her heart and spirit and outlook on herself and on life.  The cast has been well chosen, and boasts some excellent actors and singers.
  • Dan Belnavis as Flick has a voice that makes one's soul rumble.  His solo "Let It Sing" allows him to pull out all the stops on his vocal instrument.  But his acting is as effective as his singing, and his character's willingness to absorb racial slurs and inadvertent slights from Violet allow him eventually to forge a strong bond with her that is surprising and ennobling.
  • Nile Scott Hawver as Monty does an excellent job of keeping us guessing about his true motives.  Does he come to really care for Violet, or is he just using her as the latest in a string of "love 'em and leave 'em" one night stands?  His solo "Last Time I Came To Memphis" offers up some clues about his past encounters.
  •  John F. King is the Preacher and several other characters.  He walks a fine tightrope between creating a believable charismatic preacher/snake oil salesman and a caricature of a televangelist.  His is a wonderfully understated and very effective portrayal.
  • Kathy St. George portrays an Old Lady as well as a Hotel Hooker.  Her characters are so finely drawn and so compelling that she almost steals the show.  She is that good.  Her comic timing and versatility reminded me of the luminous Andrea Martin.
  • Carolyn Saxon is a bus passenger and the soloist in the soaring Gospel anthem "Raise Me Up."  She brought us to church!
  • Michael Mendiola is excellent as Violet's widowed father, struggling to raise his daughter and deal with the guilt of having literally scarred her for life.  He has his moment to shine vocally in his song "That's What I Could Do."
  • Audree Hedequist is Young Violet.  This gifted young lady holds her own in her singing alongside actors who have several decades of performing under their belts.  She and the older Violet often appear on stage together, offering the audience a dual perspective on Violet's thoughts and feelings at several stages of her life.
  • Alison McCartan as Violet takes the audience on an emotional journey. She begins as a "shrinking violet," hiding her scar and her shame behind a cascading curtain of brunette hair.  By the end of the journey of self-discovery, as she sheds self-loathing and replaces it with acceptance of herself and her new soul mates, the Violet is now in full bloom.  It is a powerful performance by this actor who previously blew us away in "Bad Jews."  This is a very different role, and she inhabits it with pathos and with grace.  Her rendition of "Look At Me" encapsulates major themes of this compelling story.
  • Rounding out this terrific ensemble cast are Tyla Collier, Patrick Greeley, and Stephen Markarian.
Dan Belnavis as Flick
Alison McCartan as Violet
Nile Scott Hawver as Monty
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through February 6th
Photo by Glenn Parry Photography
We are so blessed as theater-going audiences in the Boston area. This production is one of many excellent shows now running on Boston stages.  This is one you will not want to miss.  Don't be a "shrinking violet"; boldly click on the link below and order your tickets:

SpeakEasy Website

Background - Cast members as bus passengers
Far Right - Alison McCartan as Violet
Kathy St. George as Old Woman
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through February 6th
Photo by Glenn Parry Photograph

Music by Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics and Book by Brian Crawley
Based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts
Directed by Paul Daigneault
Musical Direction by Matthew Stern
Choreography by David Connolly
Scenic Design by Eric Levensohn
Costume Design by Charles Schoonmaker
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow
Sound Design by David Remedios



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