A psychological musical produced by MSJC
■ Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
“Violet” opened off Broadway on March 11, 1997 and closed April 6, 1997. Some of the early critics seemed to have missed the point in their negative criticisms. Of course it is not uncommon for the theater going public to disagree with some of the snobs who casually destroy the dreams of often equally snobbish thespians. I recall that most literary critics had mud mired to their sophisticated faces with the publication of James Robert Waller’s “The Bridges of Madison County,” which appeared on the New York Times’ bestsellers list for three years running.
Sometimes they get it wrong…but wrongs often correct themselves. “Violet” swept the Drama Desk Awards in 1997 (14 awards at the “Outstanding” level); New York Drama Critics Circle Award (1997); Obie Award (Special Citation winner) 1997; Richard Rogers Production Award (“Violet” 1997); Lucille Lortel Archives (Best Musical) 1997.
“Violet” is a one-act musical with inner-act fade ins and outs, giving the impression that it has more acts and scenes with one 15-minute intermission.
The play opens with Violet, sitting on a bench in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, her back to the audience and a small bag at her side. Like most of humanity, she is scarred. In her situation, her scar is the result of an axe swung by her father that caught her across the face and brow. We are left to decide for ourselves if the blow was an accident or intentional although, as the play progresses.
Violet has endured hurt and mockery as she grew up (an earlier version of her is played by another actress) and has now sought an escape from her perceived hideousness through a television preacher from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is sure that the shenanigans he performs on television come directly from God and that God, through the huckster, will heal her scars and make her whole again.
On a Greyhound bus she finds company with two soldiers. Monty (played by Chris Henley) is a handsome and seemingly happy-go-lucky guy with booze and sex on his mind. It would seem that he has no problem with one-night stands, but hasn’t as yet considered a meaningful relationship. Flick (played by Cedric Turner), Monty’s black companion, on the other hand, is soft-spoken, polite and new to the game of boy-girl relationships.
With a setting in the ‘60s on a bus from North Carolina to Memphis, it quickly becomes apparent that sex and colors mixed is not going to be the cocktail of the day. Flick is not unaware of his situation, but during the ‘60s with the sexual and racial revolution in full swing, encouraged by an accompanying musical change of pace, old taboos are slowly being pushed aside to make way for the new.
In the melee of a fast-paced set of circumstances, Violet loses her bag and the address of her relatives in Memphis. She ends up with Monty and Flick in a boarding house operated by a black landlady who is leery of a black man even being in the same room with a white girl, and certainly not in the same bed. When it appears that Flick will spend the night with Violet, she sends him to another room.
Meanwhile Monty, horny and lonesome, later finds Violet’s door unlocked and sneaks into her bed to spend the night. She would have welcomed Flick, but he seems not to be the man who will stand up to a strong black woman.
Violet believes Flick doesn’t want her and that Monty only wants a good time, and all three are wrong in their assumptions.
This play is a foray into the world of the psychological. No one sees Violet’s facial scar except Violet, and she seeks to erase it through the efforts of a hokey pokey TV evangelist interested only in his ratings and increased donations to his bank account.
Her father (Gerald Marquez) is scarred by the death of his beautiful wife and fears a life alone if his only child abandons him. Flick (perhaps because of race) understands and feels rejection. His goal in life (even if he doesn’t know it yet) is to find a true love that will be with him “until death do we part.”
Monty, off to the Vietnam War, bears the scar of coming home with no one to be there for him. In Violet as well as Flick, he finds friendship. Landlady (Deja Brewer) is stuck in her Memphis situation and has accepted her scar, albeit as an overly-cautious black woman struggling in a white male dominated South.
The preacher (Larry Sichter) wants recognition, but is stuck with his clownish employment as a hypocritical television preacher with an alcohol problem seeking to be accepted by a flock that only mimics its leader.
With such a large cast it is hard comment on all performances. Outside those mentioned, two or three deserve special salutes: Leticia Alvarez (Music Hall Singer); Lii Ford (Hotel Hooker — great blonde floozie type); and Emily Grisso as young Violet, who could have easily been the lead in this production. Like Cedric Turner (Flick), she somewhat underplayed her role as a scarred young woman with hopes. The ensemble cast must have spent hours and hours capturing the disjointed movements of dance and song that were the ‘60s.
The only flaw I observed was in the sound system, which was more a problem in the amplification than the sound crew. The problem came from singing voices being distorted, rather than emerging clearly from the speakers.
Overall, this was a musical/dramatic performance by all involved that exploited the human condition with all the flaws and lies we tell ourselves and each other and the routes we choose to escape our own realities.
All’s well that ends well, or so they say. Flick gets Violet and that’s the happy ending of a love story — or is it? I highly recommend that you see this production if you like musical theatre and a good look at yourself through the problems of others. It is the human condition displayed and we are all a part of that nasty mix. Just sayin.’
“Violet” — A Mt. San Jacinto College Theatre Production with performances:
Friday March 17, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 18, 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 19, 2:30 p.m.
Sign language interpreters will be provided.