Not Inspiration Porn: VIOLET


Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Co
Based on short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Book and lyrics by Brian Crawley
Directed by Paul Daigneault
Music direction by Matthew Stern

Jan. 9 – Feb. 6, 2016
The Stanford Calderwood Paviliion
Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
SpeakEasy on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) Violet is the story of a young woman so doggedly determined in her belief that she’s disabled, that she goes to great lengths to prove that she is. For the sake of argument, Violet is also a musical about a young woman who travels across the Midwest on a journey of self-discovery to meet a faith healer to make her pretty. It’s about both.

The central character(s), young Violet (Audree Hedequist) and adult Violet (Alison McCartan) are from a tiny, podunk town that believes bad luck can be caught by looking a woman with a scar in the face. By no fault of her Father (Michael Mendiola) or her own, Violet is raised to believe that 1. people can always be trusted to be insensitive to someone who’s different and 2. that there is something deeply wrong with her for not being pretty. As she travels from Spruce Pine, NC to Tulsa, OK, she learns that, while beauty is still the most precious of social currency a woman can have, self-perception and gumption are currency worth investing in. SpeakEasy Stage has a more normalized summary here.

The Violets aren’t given a scar to work with in this production. That her character is scarred is implied via co-actors’ response and Violet’s own personal habits of disguise. The show is about Violet the person. It is not about her scar. We don’t need to see Violet’s scar to know that it deeply disturbs her. We don’t have to see it to know how society responds to it. The metaphor works if the audience trusts in the able cast’s interpretation of it.

Violet is not inspiration porn. This is a feel-good musical that doesn’t deliver the message,”if this ugly gal can do it, so can you!” Violet is a rounded person who is disabled by her mental state. Circumstance has taught her that her scar makes her incapable of being a full woman because men won’t find her desirable. A message that still rings true today (thanks rape culture). Her story isn’t intended to motivate the Pretty or Abled to be better. Rather, it reveals her relatable struggle which is why it is so important that she not be scarred. Violet isn’t different. She’s just like us.

Hedequist and McCartan work beautifully together. They sing as if with one voice and act together like kindred spirits. There is real magic between the two of them. While I try to go out of my way not to critique growing young artists on this blog, Hedequist delivers herself with such maturity and aplomb that she deserves credit. McCartan gives a dignified, scrappy performance as the adult counterpart. There’s is a high standard of performance together and separately.

The cast is very tight. Everyone performed exceedingly well. In particular:
Dan Belnavis (Flick) has the voice of an angel. He’s also charming as Hell. No one was acting their responses to his rendition of “Let It Sing.” It was heavenly.
John F. King was as smarmy as Ted Cruz and just as thick headed in his role as the Preacher.
Insert shout out to Nile Scott Hawver’s gasp-inducing abs here.* He was also fun to watch too, I guess.

Thank you, SpeakEasy for choosing to include local actors in your production. Due to an endowment, members from local choirs were invited to perform in Violet. The ensemble’s performance of “Raise Me Up” was inspired. Still your move A.R.T.

Actors and musicians will be happy to note that Violet is full to the rafters with singable material with luscious harmonies. For the ladies, there’s “Surprised,” “Look at Me,” and the solo bits of “Lonely Stranger.” For the dudes there’s, “Let It Sing,” “That’s What I Could Do,” and Last Time I Came to Memphis.” These would all work well for solo performance or practice.

Equally as important to the plot are issues regarding race and age. Love doesn’t have to look like a movie scene to be true. Violet is a case for respecting people who are non-standard, even in small ways. Hopefully, it will cause the audience to consider the humanity of those who are different from them.

On a personal note, I wept like a baby during this production. I was swept away and forgot to take notes – not that this stopped me. This musical is two hours long without an intermission but it doesn’t need one.

 

*Seriously, when Hawver moseyed on stage without his shirt on, I thought the ladies seated to my right and directly in front of me were going to pass out. No, thank you, sir.

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