By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The bus doesn't move, of course. Neither does the show. For close to three hours--a much longer three than Company's--characters get on and off that bus (actually a plywood half-bus seen in side view) taking them from North Carolina to Oklahoma. As concepts for musical theater go, this has to be one of the worst ever. Based on the story The Ugliest Pilgrim by Doris Betts, Violetworks from a humorless book by Brian Crawley and painfully tuneless, cliché-ridden songs by Jeanine Tesori. They should have put this show on a bus and sent it to some musical theater graveyard to die (alongside Grit and Bombay Dreams).
The title character is a 25-year-old country girl (played by Ashley Puckett-Gonzales as though she's mentally challenged) who thinks her prominent facial scar, the result of an ax accident, has ruined her chances of happiness. Following the death of her parents, Violet hops a bus bound for Tulsa, where she hopes a miracle-spouting TV evangelist will heal her deformity.
On the bus, Violet meets a couple of young GIs, Monty (Michael Newberry) and African-American Flick (Markus Lloyd). The three swig from the same flask, get off the bus and get plowed together in the blues bars of Memphis. Violet, who is both devoutly religious and a bit of a slut, sleeps with Monty. But Flick falls in love with her for reasons no sane person could comprehend.
Ah, forgot to mention that Violet is set in 1964, a particularly dicey time for interracial romance in the Deep South. The soldiers are about to ship out for Vietnam, too, giving the romantic storyline a deadline.
Violet has no idea what it wants to say. Like scenic designer Claire DeVries' unbalanced set (oh, that crappy bus), the show has no focal point. One minute it's an indictment of fundamentalist religion. The next it's about a girl's damaged self-image (by the way, Puckett-Gonzales wears no scar of any kind for the role). Then it becomes about father-daughter issues. Or maybe the interracial thing.
In 19 songs, Violet keeps singing the same tune over and over. She's ugly. She's not ugly. She's lonely. She's not lonely. Aw, whatever, dude.
Roses are red, Violet blew.