Sunday, November 13, 2011
Violet (based on ''The Ugliest Pilgrim,'' a short story by Doris Betts) is a road story; the title character, an isolated young woman, travels hundreds of miles by bus to have a horrible scar on her cheek cured by a TV preacher. As is common to odysseys, her journey is both physical and internal. She leaves the stability and security of home, meets people different from any she has known, experiences unexpected adventures, and eventually finds/develops a new self.
It is hard to understand why this show isn't more renowned--although Ben Brantley's lukewarm review in the New York Times of the 1997 Playwrights Horizons production probably didn't help. Written by Jeanine Tesori (music) and Brian Crawley (book and lyrics), Violet is touching and funny and true, and the score, which encompasses gospel, bluegrass, blues, and country, is exceptional. For example, "On My Way," sung by the bus passengers as they set off to meet their futures, is thrilling; "Let It Sing," a soldier's salute to self-expression, soars; and Violet's confrontation with her father, "Look at Me" and "That's What I Could Do," breaks your heart.
Michael McElroy, who sang "Let It Sing" in the original Violet, directs here, and his work is sure and clean, as is Jason Burrow's music direction. The seven-person band is quite good, though I wished at some points that they weren't quite so amplified (ditto some of the singing).
As Violet, Molly Jobe is amazingly good. It's a marathon role; not only is Violet onstage throughout the show, but she goes through a roller coaster of emotions. It would be easy to overplay her, but Jobe is a subtle and smart actress--and she sings the roll beautifully. Also outstanding are Dimitri Joseph Moise and Dustin Smith as the two soldiers that befriend Violet, Travis Slavin as the TV preacher, and Emily Ide as an old woman who sits next to Violet on the bus. But, really, the entire cast is wonderful; the rest are Michael Ruocco, Elizabeth Evans, Gerianne Perkins, Maria Norris, Meryl Williams, Vinnie Urdea, Corey Camperchioli, Carl Michael Wilson, Jelani Alladin, Sydney Blaxill, Molly Jean Blodgett, Taylor Daniels, Tara Halpern, Keziah John-Paul, Charlie Kolarich, and Gabriella Perez.
While this is a university production, the only way it feels different from a top-notch professional production is the youth of the performers. I look forward to following their careers.
($14 full-price ticket, first row center)