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« Sitcom Cast Change Countdown #2: Ladies of Cheers A Trio of Very Special Screenings at Music Box Theater in October »

Review Wed Sep 21 2011

Review: Violet @ The Mercury Theater

Violet with Soldiers2.jpg

L to R: Courtney Crouse, Evan Tyrone Martin, and Harmony France in Violet.

The look of the Mercury Theater last night set the mood for the mid 1960's in the south: a framed photo of LBJ rested on the table next to the press packets; the set included two televisions simultaneously rolling archival footage of the march on Selma and other iconic moments in the civil rights movement; and ambient bus station sounds filled the theater, including an old timey ring tone which I initially mistook for my cell phone.

I generally keep from reading other reviews of plays and musicals that I've been assigned to cover, not because I think I'm so unbelievably proficient in the art of writing reviews, but because it's easy for me to second guess my own opinion and I don't want to open myself to influence that might change the language and opinions I express in my own review. The last time I saw a Bailiwick production I was so blown away by it that I wanted to pay for my own ticket and see it again, so I was confused by my not-so-hot reaction to Violet, and felt I had to do some research. After all, this musical has won awards.

Violet is the story of a young woman who was horribly disfigured by her father in a wood chopping accident as a teenager, and goes on a journey from her hometown in the mountains of North Carolina to Memphis to seek the healing powers of a television preacher. Threaded within this story is the civil rights movement of the 1960's, which manifests itself in the form of Flick, a young African-American soldier who Violet meets on the bus, along with his white cohort, Monty. The Bailiwick production (and others, it seems) does not show the disfigurement on Violet's face, leaving it to the audience to imagine the scar that runs from her nose all the way across her left cheek. Every once in a while the word "disfigured" entered the dialogue, and made me realize that I was having a hard time believing in the premise, since neither the actress playing the teenaged Violet (Glynis Gilio) nor the actress playing the 25 year-old Violet (Harmony France) bore any unusual marks on her face. The two Violets didn't even behave as if there was anything remarkable about their appearance at all; there was no subtle slouching to the left, no jutting the right side of the face forward in an attempt to hide what was on the left side, no cupping the face with the left hand in an attempt to look casual while concealing a scar... nothing. I do stranger things with my posture when I have a zit, never mind a disfiguring and life altering scar.

I thought for a while that maybe I just wasn't getting into it enough, that I needed to suspend my sense of belief, but I just wasn't sold on it. My expectations had been raised by the realism invoked by the framed photo of LBJ in the lobby, and by the playbill (the coolest playbill I've ever seen) made to look like a Greyhound bus schedule complete with old timey looking font and unfolds just like a real bus schedule, so why wouldn't I be given the satisfaction of actually seeing the scar that is so central to the plotline?

I hemmed and hawed over this problem, and tried to focus on what was onstage instead of what wasn't. The trouble is I wasn't really blown away by it. I had my favorites in the cast: Gilio as the teenaged Violet; Evan Tyrone Martin as Flick; and Elizabeth Gray as Gospel Singer/Landlady; but the relationships between the principal actors just didn't ring true to me. At best it felt heavy-handed, and at worst it felt slightly embarrassing to watch a cast of urban northerners portray rural southerners. It left me filled with questions and doubt, and the need to reference Wikipedia.

Violet runs through October 16 at the Mercury Theater (3745 N. Southport), shows on Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 7:30pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets start at $27.50. For information and tickets call 773-325-1700 or visit Bailiwick Chicago.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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