Theater Review: VIOLET (Actors Co-op in Hollywood)

by Tony Frankel on May 21, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles

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NO SHY VIOLET

Based on The Ugliest Pilgrim, a short story by Doris Betts, Violet — with book and lyrics by Brian Crawley and music by Jeanine Tesori — takes place in 1964 and follows the 25-year-old Violet (Claire Adams) as she travels by bus from her home in the hills of North Carolina all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Violet has a large, ugly scar running down her face, the result of an accident with an axe when she was 13, and she hopes that a slick, faith-healing televangelist (Kevin Shewey) whose show is filmed in Tulsa can make it disappear.

Along the way, she meets a pair of soldiers: Flick (Jahmaul Bakare), who is African-American, and his friend Monty (Morgan West), who is white. The three gradually befriend each other and then fall into a sticky, complicated love triangle. Violet also frequently flashes back to her younger self (played by Lily Zager) and her relationship with her father (Jon Allsopp), a man whose sincere love for his daughter was matched only by the pain he felt at his wife’s loss.

Tesori’s rich songbook is indicative of a Southern bus ride. Employing country, bluegrass, gospel and blues styles, highlights are the oft-reprised “On My Way,” led gorgeously by Adams; Bakare’s bring-down-the-house “Let It Sing”; and the gospel number “Raise Me Up,” belted out by the incomparable Benai Boyd as leader of the televangelist’s choir. But highlights are personal, and most Actors Co-op patrons will find their own among the universally strong performances of a stellar songbook.

Technical elements for this production are professional, not stand-out. That’s no putdown. Nicholas Acciani’s sparse set and Wendell C. Carmichael’s functional costuming is exactly the right touch to allow these strong characters to drain the room’s oxygen. To that, director Richard Israel draws together a stunningly strong acting and singing ensemble. Their work is enhanced by Taylor Stephenson’s terrific music direction and Cameron Combe‘s excellent sound design – both difficult jobs when mixing a band and large cast of 12 in such an intimate space.

photos by Matthew Gilmore

Violet
Actors Co-op
David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St.
(on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood)
Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 2:30; some Sat’s at 2:30
ends on June 17, 2018 EXTENDED to June 30, 2018
for tickets, call 323.462.8460 or visit Actors Co-op

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