“Violet” at Arts West

“Beauty is only skin deep,” we’re told. But what if that skin is horribly scarred? If you are Violet and have been ridiculed, teased, and demeaned because of your scarred face, you decide to do something about it. And, if you are a rural southern girl, perhaps the only hope is a faith healing minister.

Thus we have the plot of this operatic musical based on a short story by Doris Betts and adapted for the stage by Brian Crawley. Much of the dialog is sung rather than spoken and accompanied by a six-piece band under the direction of R.J. Tancioco.

The music by Jeanine Tesori is the star of this show. It’s an amazing mixture of country, rock, classical, gospel and blues. It resounds through the theatre presenting unexpected transformations and combinations. The problem is that the sound system doesn’t work as well as it should so one is left wondering exactly how the music would have sounded with better technology. There are also times when it’s quite difficult to understand the cast members.

Director Andrew Russell has reconfigured the Arts West stage for the production seating audience members who choose to be “on the stage” in church pews around a large wooden platform. The action takes place on that platform and around it. This is not a production with massive and detailed sets. The minimal sets designed by Christopher Mumaw combined with the lighting by Ryan Dunn work exceedingly well.

Violet journeys by bus from her home in the mountains of North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she’s convinced that a television evangelist (marvelously played by David Caldwell) will heal her scar and make her beautiful. Along the way she encounters many people and has many new experiences. The most important encounter is with two soldiers, one black and one white. There’s a symbolic relationship between the scars that Violet and Flick, the African American soldier, carry, but that’s not as well developed as it might have been.

It’s no spoiler to tell you that Violet returns home looking just as she did when she left. The big difference is that within that scarred face is a renewed woman who realizes that a fulfilling life is possible and that beauty shines from within.

If you are a fan of eclectic music, you will indeed enjoy this.

Through April 3 at Arts West Playhouse, 4711 California Ave., SW, Seattle, (www.artswest.org/theatre/buy-tickets/).

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