Friday, April 9, 2010

'Violet' Solid, But Not Ernie's Best

While the Hollins University production of Doris Betts' "Violet" is not at the top of the list of Ernie Zulia's directorial efforts, it has some strong moments and is ultimately an entertaining evening at the theater.

The play (which, in a short movie version, won an Oscar) runs through Sunday at the Hollins Theatre.

Ernie is, without much argument, the best director in this region and what he does with Hollins students is rarely short of astonishing. Such is the case again with "Violet" with an amateur cast and crew performing at professional levels from top to bottom.

In this instance, it's the play that comes up a bit short. It's simply too long, a little more involved than it needs to be and, frankly, overwritten. It concerns a young woman, badly scarred in an ax accident involving her father when she was a young teenager. She is seeking help from an Oklahoma faith healer and must travel to Tulsa on a bus from her home in Spruce Pine, N.C. (where I used to have a girlfriend ... many sweet years ago).

Elaine Previs and Brittany Kemmer sing the lead role as a young girl and an adult and they are quite good. The ensemble includes a lot of talent, including my good pal April Drummond, a Hollins junior, Roanoke native, mother of seven and playright with several credits. April, who steals scenes unmercifully in everything she appears in, does so again here, during a marvelous Gospel number in the second act. Wait around for it, even if you get a little antsy before she comes out. And you will. But she's worth the wait.

And the play is worth your evening.

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