“Violet” At The Calderwood Pavilion, Boston
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
My review of the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “Violet” could be summed up in just three words: See this play.
Violet, which premiered off Broadway in 1997 originally got mixed reviews, but fortunately survived and went on to play Broadway. This Boston run is being directed by Paul Daigneault who is taking it on for the second time, it played the SpeakEasy in 2000, and he has done a masterful job. Along with a remarkable score composed by Jeanine Tesori with lyrics by Brian Crawley and a first rate cast led by Alison McCartan who’s Violet is near perfect.
Set in 1964, it is the story of Violet, a young woman who has a severe facial scar that resulted from a tragic accident when she was a child. She has gathered together enough money to take a bus trip from her home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma where she believes a faith healer can remove her scar and the emotional pain that goes with it.
Along the way she befriends a number of people including two soldiers, Flick and Monty, who both come to care for her very much. There are also scenes that occur during the performance of the young Violet, played with amazing depth by Audree Hedequist, and her father played by Michael Mendiola in a role filled with emotion that seems made to order for him. The two are beautiful to watch together and give the audience insight into how Violet’s strength was developed.
It would have been so easy for this play to have fallen into the story of a bitter young woman who is mad at the world for the bad hand she has been dealt, and the people who look at her and feel pity for her, but that is not how it goes.
Violet is tough and smart. Yes, she is angry and hurt, but at no time did I feel pity for her. I was sympathetic towards her, but I also recognized the amazing strength of her character. Flick does as well. Her father did a remarkable job giving her the tools to enable her to deal with life, which is conveyed in the number “Luck of the Draw”. The people Violet encounters on her trip learn as much from her as she does from them.
The musical score is breathtaking covering many genres including gospel, folk, rock, and country. It is hard to believe one composer could master so many different types of music. While all the numbers are outstanding I do have to make mention of “Let It Sing” performed by Dan Belnavis as Flick. His incredible voice fills the theater with emotion.
I would also note that the scenes with the faith healing preacher are played just right by John F. King who did not slip into parody, which would have been easy to do, but instead showed the human qualities of the man without diminishing him. It was not easy to do, but Mr. King got it right.
Again, see this play, you will not be disappointed. Violet will move you, touch you, and make you want to Let It Sing! What you see and hear will stay with you long after you experience this amazing production. Theatre is alive and well in Boston thanks to the SpeakEasy Production Company.
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry
Violet, playing through February 6th at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., Boston.617.933.8600