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Feature: MASH NOTE TO VIOLET at Cadence Theatre Company In Partnership With Virginia Rep

Feature: MASH NOTE TO VIOLET at Cadence Theatre Company In Partnership With Virginia Rep It may be awkward to say the whole name--Cadence Theatre in partnership with Virginia Repertory Theatre--but if they continue to bring us shows like "Violet," I will say it all day long.

This 2017 production of the 1997 musical by Brian Crawley and Jeanine Tesori is based on a short story by Doris Betts, "The Ugliest Pilgrim." Taking place in 1964, it tells of Violet, a young woman from rural North Carolina who was injured as a child and bears a facial scar. She determines that a faith healer in Oklahoma can help her, and she sets out by bus to see him.

I had only listened to the music briefly before going to see the show. It seemed pretty enough.

That left me unprepared for the emotional tidal wave that Chase Kniffen's production delivered. Not only were the songs gorgeously realized under Kim Fox's music direction--and spectacularly sung by Christie Jackson, Josh Marin and Matt Polson--but the emotional power of the show did me in.

I went back a couple years ago and read Betts' original story, and--having seen the musical first--I found it merely interesting. But at TheatreGym I was transported by the anguish of Violet's plight, the hopefulness at her core, the romantic triangle she gets herself into, the tragedy of her history. Jackson was incandescent; so was Sophia Bunnell as Violet's younger self. Marin and Polson were both spectacularly good, and pros like Eric Williams, Robyn O'Neill and Katrinah Carol Lewis gave terrific support as the many characters Violet meets on her journey.

Above all, Joe Pabst once again gave a performance that was so excellent, I could not imagine anyone doing it better. As Violet's father--the cause of her disfigurement--he showed deep love, deep remorse, and a deep backwoods practicality that rang true.

I'm so glad I saw this one. I wish I could see it again, but only with this cast.

* * *

And while on the subject of violet, I'm reminded of a musical I am really sorry to have missed--"The Color Purple," I was still living in San Diego when Kniffen directed this one for Virginia Rep. I had never seen this show, with book by Marsha Norman and songs by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. I can look at the cast--Felicia Curry, Jerold Solomon, Josh Marin, Katrinah Carol Lewis, Desiree Roots Centeio and Carolyn Minor Daughtry--and have a clue of what it must have been like.

But more than that, I don't think I've ever heard my friends Pat Vastano and Dennis Lieberman rave about anything the way they raved about this production. So I feel pretty sorry for myself.

Last year I took myself up to Riverside Center for the Performing Arts to see their version. I'd never been there before. The show was great--but again, I'm guessing that, good as it was, it was not the equal of what Virginia Rep did.

From This Author - Susan Haubenstock

Susan Haubenstock has written theater criticism since 1989, first for the Stamford (CT) Advocate and then for the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch. She has an MA in theater from the University of Illinois.... (read more about this author)

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