The Garden Theater
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics and Book by Brian Crawley
Based on a book by Doris Betts
Directed by Tara Kromer
Starring Holli Trisler, Raleigh Mosley II, Brian Zealand and Sean Powell
Winter Garden, FL
One joy of rural living is difficultly in dealing with accidents. Young Violet (Trisler) was struck by an axe head as she watched daddy chop wood. She was lucky to survive but is embarrassed by the prominent scar. Praying for a miracle, she gets on a Greyhound and heads for a big name TV faith healer (Russel Stevens) in Oklahoma. On the bus she meets some GI’s fresh out of boot camp. Flick (Mosley) and Monty (Zealand) are looking for sex and adventure, and an unescorted and not very attractive woman is an easy mark. Both test her virtue with varying results, and I’ll just say Beale Street in Memphis was a much bigger deal in 1962 than it is today. Violet meets the “miraculous” preacher, and finds he’s not just a jerk, he’s a TV Star Faith Healer sized jerk. And then there’s the bad news: her medical problem is beyond the power of TV Preaching to repair. Perhaps she should see a more secular surgeon. Now she’s really lost but reconciles with her own reality and stops off in Arkansas to join up with Flick. Maybe looks aren’t everything, if you find the right person.
It’s a small musical here, expanded out onto a large stage that often seems ready to swallow Violet whole. The set looks like the back end of a bus, complete with blinkers and filthy windows. Songs are nice but not very memorable, although they do push the story along well enough and let us into Violet’s secret chamber. Violet is small and lost, and how people react to her outweighs her own performance. The Preacher is the cleanest of all the personalities here and he’s everything you want him to be: fraudulent, slick and out for no one but himself. Mosley and Zealand are an unlikely pair as interracial friendships in the late 40’s. The Army was still segragated and this plot element feelss forced. But I liked these two vagabonds, they seemed very Shakespeare in their pursuits of carnality. Violet’s father (Sean Powell) looks lost and alone; he clearly feels guilty for the accident which ultimately is Just One of Those Things. Bloody, but just a thing. While this is a crisp and well-acted work under the direction of Ms. Kromer, I’d like to see it in a much smaller space. I think there’s a real heart in Violet’s crusade, and I want to be closers to her as she works through it.