Violet

This past weekend I drove up to Virginia (okay, Davidson, but still…) to see Davidson Community Players’ latest production, Violet at the Armour Street Theatre. I honestly knew NOTHING about the show, other than the names of a few performers in the show.

I was very surprised, in a number of ways.

First, I was surprised to discover that it was a musical. Yep, a few minutes into the show, and actors burst into song. You’d think that the couple of musicians discretely tucked away stage-left would’ve been a clue, but it never occurred to me. ’cause I’m clever like that.

I was also surprised by the quality of the performance. To be frank, small productions of shows with which I’m unfamiliar, staged in a tiny and non-traditional theatre space, tend to be hit-or-miss in terms of their production value. The bottom line is this: Violet was a very PLEASANT surprise.

The story revolves around a young woman from a tiny North Carolina town. It’s set in 1964, and the protagonist is desperate for a solution after medical science cannot help heal a childhood accident. So of course, she saves up her money for years so that she can make a Greyhound trek across the country to a televangelist preacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I’ll set aside my own views of faith healers and televangelist preachers for the time being, and focus on the performances. The cast was strong, featuring several key performances and a number of supporting roles. The acting was fairly consistent throughout, with some noteworthy standouts. Among them:

Cassandra Howley Wood nails the quiet vulnerability of the adult Violet, a shy country girl who seems resigned to being mocked for either her disfigurement or her clear naiveté, but who is grimly determined to proceed anyway. Dennis Delamar was perfect as young Violet’s father, with a playful sweetness masking his despair over the accident. And Patrick Ratchford was outstanding as the preacher, so much so that I actually couldn’t bring myself to hate his character despite my own personal misgivings.

Among the ensemble cast, I have to give shout-outs to Stuart Spencer and Kevin Roberge. Spencer, who has made a name for himself playing aw-shucks nice guys in The Full Monty and Seussical, takes a surprisingly hateful turn for two racist characters in this show. And Roberge, recognizable as the lead from The Full Monty and part of the comedic trio of A Broadway Christmas Carol, alternates between a gruff bus driver and a hysterical aide to the televangelist. Both were the quintessence of “supporting actor” in scenes that weren’t about them, but succeeded in part because of their presence.

The vocal performances weren’t as consistently noteworthy as the dramatic ones, but even still they were about what you’d expect from a community theatre in a small production. (And that’s HONESTLY not a dig.) My favorite singers, without question, were Carmen Coulter and Brianna Smith. Both played several supporting roles, and were jaw-droppingly wonderful every time they sang a note.

Get your tickets to Violet while you can. Allow plenty of time to park near the Armour Street Theatre, which can sometimes be a challenge given the small venue. Davidson Community Players has produced an enjoyable and thought-provoking show, and it’s well worth your drive and your money.

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