June 26--Early on in "Violet: A Musical," the title character, on a pilgrimage from North Carolina to Oklahoma, gets off a bus in Memphis.
There, another passenger, a concerned older woman, discourages her from leaving with two soldiers she's befriended on the journey, warning that "some people might take advantage" of her.
But Violet isn't worried: "Next week, when I'm pretty, I hope to have that problem," she says.
"I had looks once," the woman replies. "And, in the end, it don't amount to much."
"Violet," which opens Friday as part of Endstation Theatre Company's Blue Ridge Summer Theatre Festival, follows Violet as she makes her way to Tulsa, where she hopes a televangelist will heal the facial scar that's plagued her since childhood.
"At some point in our life, we ask some higher power for a miracle or for a prayer to come true," says director Chad Larabee. "While we don't always get the prayer we wanted, oftentimes we get what we need. I think the show kind of speaks to that."
Both Larabee and Geoff Kershner, Endstation's founder and director, say they've wanted to stage the musical -- an off-Broadway hit in the 1990s -- for awhile.
"I've asked Geoff to consider this show for the last three years because I think it says so much about life and faith and self-acceptance," Larabee says. "It's a really bold story, and it's told with such heart and compassion."
It also fits right in with Endstation's mission to perform works relevant to the area.
"We're always looking for regional things, or things that are very much about Americana," Kershner says. "The main character is from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Violet is from close to this region."
Set in the 1960s, the story is told through music evocative of the time period.
"It's drawing from all those musical influences," Larabee says. "There are hints of gospel. There's a little Tina Turner. There's definitely country [too]. You hear the Patsy Cline influences."
The setting also allows for the play to address the Civil Rights movement, through the soldiers Violet meets -- one of whom, Flick (played by Taamu Wuya) is black and can relate to how she feels about being judged for what's on the outside.
"I think Violet's character is really relatable," says her portrayer, Katie Bland, who auditioned for Larabee in New York. "Not everyone has a scar on their face, but everyone has their perceived shortcomings. The show is really about her pursuit for love and feeling worthy of love. That's always tugged at my heartstrings when I'd read the script and seen the show.
"It was one of those shows on my list, my to-do list, for a long time."
You don't find out how Violet got her scar immediately. Instead, her past is revealed through flashbacks to her childhood, with actors portraying a young Violet and her father.
One scene bounces back and forth between present-day Violet playing poker with Flick and his friend Monty on one side of the stage, and young Violet learning to play the game from her father on the other.
"The fun of it has been working with our designers to create a color for the flashbacks and a color for what's happening in real time," Larabee says. "We're finding ways to let the audience know if this is really happening, if this is a memory, if this is a dream. Through lighting and also through video, we are able to take the audience into Violet's psyche."
Eventually, he says, "it becomes fairly clear how she was injured and why, and why this journey is so important to her."
The scar isn't part of Bland's costume, something Larabee says the playwrights are adamant about in their notes.
"You don't see it," he says. "Part of the magic is you have to imagine what it is. I think what people will imagine will be more gruesome than what it would actually be. It's a really great device because it's something the audience creates for her."
And it's not exactly a spoiler to say that Violet's dreams of having that scar disappear aren't very realistic.
"It's so respectful of religion but, at the same point, it's speaking to what we expect of our religious leaders and, in some ways, our misguided sense of what God can do for us," Larabee says, adding that the entire production is a "full emotional journey."
At the end, he says, "it makes you want to stand up and thank God, or thank someone, for it. It's so life-affirming."
(c)2013 The News & Advance (Lynchburg, Va.)
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