AXIS opens with stirring 'Violet'


"Violet," a small-scale musical about inner beauty, is receiving a stirring, sensitive mid-Atlantic premiere at AXIS Theatre.

The show has a number of things going for it: A rich gospel/country-influenced score (music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by Brian Crawley, who also wrote the book), the emotional pull of a romantic triangle and the innate theatricality of the subject of televangelism. And from the rousingly sung opening number to the tender closing kiss, stage director Brian Klaas and musical director Steven Zumbrun make the most of the show's assets.

Based on a short story called "The Ugliest Pilgrim," by Doris Betts, "Violet" focuses on a woman whose face was severely disfigured by a wayward ax blade when she was 13. Now 25, Violet leaves her North Carolina mountain home and travels to Oklahoma, where she hopes a TV faith healer (played by a properly oily Dennis J. Scott) can remove her scar and make her pretty again.

Kelli Danaker portrays Violet without scar makeup; we see the person she really is, not the person she sees in the mirror. The intensity of Danaker's acting and singing, however, leaves no doubt about her character's torment. Furthermore, though Violet may be naive, adversity has made her tough. She easily holds her own with the pair of soldiers she meets on her journey - a wise black sergeant (Leanto E. Jones) and a hick white corporal (Sean D. Rivers). Their first number together, "Luck of the Draw," exhibits Klaas' slickest staging; while Violet trounces the men at poker, we simultaneously see her as a child (Gabrielle Furman), in flashback, learning the game from her father (John Amato).

Violet's relationship with the soldiers is fairly complex, lending weight to the musical, which takes place in 1964. The parallel between the discrimination Violet has undergone and racial prejudice is unmistakable. Yet, hurt and angry as Violet may be that people can't see her as she is, she is initially guilty of the same offense toward the black sergeant.

In the end, "Violet" is more about a positive outlook and self-confidence than it is about disfigurement. With this fine production launching its season, the outlook for AXIS is definitely bright.

Show times at AXIS, 3600 Clipper Miller Road, are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 15. Tickets are $12 and $14. Call 410-243-5237.

Radio plays

Theater on the Air, the local company that takes radio-style plays to senior centers, has announced its performance schedule at AXIS, which serves as its home base: "Born Yesterday" (Sept. 17-19), "Fibber McGee and Molly" (Nov. 12-14), "Gunsmoke" (Jan. 21-23), "The Hitchhiker" (March 11-13) and "Superman & Buck Rogers" (May 6-8). Curtain time is 8 p.m. A $10 donation is suggested.

On the road with Beckett

"Have Beckett will travel" could be the slogan for the Maryland Stage Company, the theater in residence at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Four years ago the company performed at the international Beckett symposium in Strasbourg, France, and now, on Sept. 19 and 20, it will present three short Beckett plays - "Play," "That Time" and "Ohio Impromptu" - at the symposium and festival being held in Berlin, Germany. The event is expected to be the largest Beckett gathering since the playwright's death in 1989.

Company founder and artistic director Xerxes Mehta, who is also president-elect of the Samuel Beckett Society, points out that it's particularly fitting to be performing "Play" in Germany, since that's where the piece made its debut. The 18-minute work, which he describes as "an obsessive retelling of a comic story of adultery," features one of Beckett's strongest images - three human heads protruding from funeral urns.

The trio of Beckett plays will be performed by UMBC faculty members Sam McCready and Wendy Salkind, along with area actors Bill Largess and Peggy Yates.

After the company returns to Baltimore, local audiences will get a chance to see the plays at the UMBC Theatre, 5401 Wilkens Ave., at 8 p.m. Sept. 28, 29, 30, Oct. 6 and 7; and at 4 p.m. Oct. 1 and 8. Tickets are $15 general admission; $13 for UMBC faculty; $10 for seniors and $8 for students. Maryland high school students will be admitted free. Post-performance discussions with the director and cast are scheduled for Sept. 29, Oct. 1 and 6. For more information, call 410-455-2476.

Training for teens

Teens interested in performing on stage can study subjects ranging from Shakespeare to musical theater in area programs this fall.

The Performance Workshop Theatre Company is offering a Shakespeare Workshop on Teens for six consecutive Tuesdays beginning Oct. 10. The workshop will be conducted by Marc Horwitz, the company's co-artistic/producing director, and is intended for intermediate and advanced students, ages 13 to 18. The sessions will be held at the theater, 28 Ostend St., from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Enrollment is limited to 10 students. Tuition is $150. For more information call 410-659-7830.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Community Center's Teen Theater Project is offering a Song and Dance Class on two Tuesdays, Sept. 26 an Oct. 3, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Taught by Margie T. Farmer and Liese Frutchey, the class will focus on styles and techniques from musical theater history. Classes will be held at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, 3506 Gwynnbrook Avenue.

The fee is $25 for JCC members; $38 for non-members. For more information, call 410-356-5200, Ext. 350.

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