Direct And To The Point: Violet

This post is inspired by the production of Violet that’s recently been revived by Roundabout Theatre, directed by Leigh Silverman. This is the first production of this show to grace the Great White Way. I was first introduced to this show in college and absolutely fell in love. I needed to get this post written ASAP because I’m about to leave to go play Violet in a different production of Violet with The Commons Group up in Waitsfield, VT, and I imagine I may have new or different thoughts to add. So, away we go…Violet Playbill

– In general.

I was rather sad about the loss of intimacy. Granted, my introduction to this show was in a small black box theater, so that certainly colors my visions of what I want from a production. But the material, both the book and music, lend themselves to a more realistic (and less showy) performance. (I actually think this show would make a great little indie film. I don’t know many indie film makers who shoot musicals, but a girl can dream.) I imagine it’s got to be tricky to make the American Airlines Theater (or any theater that seats upwards of 700 people) feel intimate. However, Once managed to create intimacy at the Bernard B. Jacobs (which seats over 1,000), so it has to be possible.

– On My Way.

I think it may be important that we don’t see Violet smile until “Luck of the Draw”. Musically, “On My Way” certainly has joyful element. However, Violet reveals to Flick in a later scene how she had to lie to herself and act like it wouldn’t be such a big deal in order to muster the courage to make this trip. To me, that indicates that “On My Way” is heavily dosed with anxiety and terror for Violet. This is the very last thing she can do to try to fix her face. And while it will be amazing if it works, if it fails, there will be no other recourse. She will be doomed to live out the rest of her life alone as the monstrously deformed woman up on the mountain. Also, in the later scene with Flick, Flick says “most people think faith healers are frauds…as a rule.” This is something that Violet can only argue by saying “what if he’s the exception?” She’s a smart cookie. She can’t argue that he’s not a fraud. She can only argue that he might not be a fraud, which is far from a guarantee that he’ll be able to heal her. Additionally, “On My Way” marks the point in our story where Violet has to go out into the world, to be seen by a whole new group of people. If it’s bad to be viewed as hideous by the same townspeople you’ve known for the past 25 years, it’s got to be substantially worse to have to venture into fresh ridicule and disgust.

– Luck of the Draw.

In this production, there were some changes made to the book and score from the original Off Broadway production. One of these changes comes toward the beginning of “Luck of the Draw”. Originally, the lyrics read as follows:

Father: All you got’s a pair of queens and nothing more. Once you bet, you get to draw some. That’s what losta queens are for.
Young Violet: A penny?
Father: That’s a pair a queens.
Young Violet: A nickel?
Father: There’s the bet I saw.

In the current version, the lyrics are sung in this way:
Father: All you got’s a pair of queens and nothing more. Once you bet, you get to draw some. That’s what losta queens are for.
Young Violet: [no response]
Father: [as Young Violet] A penny? [As himself] That’s a pair a queens.
Young Violet: [no response]
Father: [as Young Violet] A nickel? [As himself] There’s the bet I saw.

While I think this is a fun little change, I don’t think it ultimately works. With this change we don’t really get to see Young Violet learning to play the game or be invested in wanting to play the game. It also makes Father’s first win over Young Violet seem more like extortion rather than a hand that she played poorly and lost. I don’t think this serves to develop the relationship that Father and Young Violet have. I think one of the really lovely components of their relationship is that he treats her, largely, like an adult.

– All to Pieces.

I feel like “All to Pieces” might be the first time we really see joy in Violet. She finally gets to put on “the show” of what it would be like to be all these gorgeous, sexy women that she’s been studying for years. That being said, I don’t think it’s goofy. I think she’s having a great time, but I think she’s dead serious about it. Which is why she gets so upset with Flick and Monty when she realizes they have stopped paying attention.

– Always Be Storytelling.

With “Let It Sing” and “Raise Me Up” in particular, I think it’s incredibly important to make sure that you are actively storytelling. These songs are so powerful as music, that it’s easy for them to just become about the singing and the music. Which I might be able to support in a concert format, but at the theater it causes me to start thumbing through my program. Plus, I think they actually play a huge role in the arc of the story.

– Lay Down Your Head

I think there’s a huge opportunity for comedy in “Lay Down Your Head”. Perhaps this stems from my belief that falling in love always makes fools of us. In this song Violet is singing Monty a lullaby. However, during the bridge she starts to get caught up with how much she’s feeling and the music crescendos and, without a breath, moves back into the chorus. I think within that swell it’s possible for Monty to stir slightly (because Violet’s singing has gotten a bit louder) and for Violet to have to immediately switch gears back into the lullaby to get him to resume sleeping. I’ve never seen it done, but I think it could be brilliant.

– Down the Mountain

In this production, the choice was made to have Young Violet come out for “Down the Mountain” with blood on her face. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this choice. (In the previous version that I had seen, she appeared without blood.) On the one hand, the blood is certainly visually striking. On the other hand, I’m not sure it’s necessary. And I feel like it potentially highlights some logistical issues. If someone gets a severe cut to the face, that’s going to bleed profusely. From a first aid standpoint you’re going to want to bind that, especially if you have you have to carry someone all the way down the mountain to get to the doctor. Without the blood (it seems plausible to me in a show where we never see Violet’s scar, that we wouldn’t see the blood from the inciting incident) I think it allows the focus to be on the emotion of the scene. I guess I’m leaning toward the notion that blood is too strong of a visual for that moment on stage. I’m not sure.

– Last Time I Came to Memphis.

“Last Time I Came to Memphis” replaced “You’re Different” in this production, and for my taste, I prefer “You’re Different”. In “You’re Different” what Monty is essentially saying is “you’re weird…but I think that’s what I like about you”. In “Last Time I Came to Memphis” Monty is basically saying “I like loose, drunk women”. In both instances, this is a song that Violet hears – with “You’re Different” she’s pretending to be asleep, with “Last Time I Came to Memphis” the scene has been restructured such that she’s awake. To me, hearing someone say “I think I like you, even though you’re weird” is much more appealing than “I sleep with lots of women”. The first one makes me inclined to want to actually develop a relationship with them, where as the second one is kind of repulsive. At the end of the show, when Violet thinks she’s been healed, she comes back to the soldiers base to see Monty in the hopes that they will like happily ever after together. I think he has to be likable in order for that to make sense. Monty’s a bit of a hot head, but “You’re Different” allows us to see that he’s also sweet. Part of the reason that Flick is the better match for Violet in the end is that he’s more mature and is potentially able to love her in a real and adult way. Monty, on the other hand, is young enough to think that the Vietnam War will be exciting (a reminder that the show is set in 1964, at which point the US has already been involved in conflict for the past 9 years) and immature enough to not know how to interact with Violet after they sleep together other than buying her candy and soda. In fact Violet refers to him as being just a boy multiple times. To this end, I also think that Monty should be cast as a bit younger and a bit slighter. Colin Donnell does a fine job with his portrayal, but he’s definitely a man. If Colin Donnell is being sent to Vietnam, I think “Well, you might come back. You look like you can take care of yourself.” Where as with someone of a smaller build who looks a bit younger, I’m more inclined to think “Oh my god, you’re just a baby. You don’t know the first thing about war and the only way you’re coming home is in a body bag.” As morbid as that sounds, I think that’s what you want to tug at in your audience when Monty is leaving for Vietnam – the fact that these were kids being sent off to die.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Post them below.The more the merrier!

Violet and Vermont

Violet Commons GroupToday I head up to Vermont to start rehearsals to play Violet in Violet with The Commons Group. I’ve wanted to do this role for years and I’m so thrilled to finally have the opportunity. If you happen to be up around Burlington in early August, come and say hello!