Roscoe Henning, Seth Sheffield, & Ashley Drury in Violet. Photo: METC


Music by Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics and Book by Bryan Crawley
Based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts
Directed by Valarie Canon

A review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

A young girl is scarred by her father. As an adult, she takes a bus ride to see a televangelist who she hopes can heal her. Along the way, Violet learns about hope, faith, and acceptance of her beauty. Minds Eye Theater Company presents Violet with precious optimism, simple staging, and a heartfelt score full of gospel and folk music.

Director Valerie Canon’s production is some of the finest staging I have seen at the Henry Cla Theatre. Most striking, the lighting design by Nick Dent evokes the traveling bus through the southern countryside, the streets of Memphis, and the excitement of a television production in the 1960s. Keeping with a simple theme, the costumes are intentional and just as well-rounded as the character choices of those who wear them. 

In addition to the simple blocks and street signs that serve as a bus and different locations, the choice of the title character’s facial scar is bold. A malformation afflicts her and she wants to be healed and beautiful. We believe what the character sees and we identify with her pain. Ashley Drury’s performance as Violet contains both burdens and levity. She shines through Violet’s joy and inspiration while she flips through her mother’s prayer book or dreams of the different facial features she would like to have from various celebrities. As a vocalist, Drury has a strong handle on the folk-inspired score. While Drury does well with the dramatic elements of Violet’s trauma, I would have liked to see the optimism of the show’s message come through her performance during moments when her character felt rigid or uncomfortable interacting with others on her journey.

Violet meets two enlistees on her journey, Flick played by Roscoe Henning, and Monty played by Seth Sheffield. The three characters form a type of love triangle. Henning’s emotional range for his soldier on leave is impressive as he faces racism, bigotry, and a longing for the title character. Sheffield’s Monty is a brute with a thirst to compete. While Sheffield and Drury’s connection does not translate as a physical attraction, Sheffield has great comedic chops and vocal talent to compensate for it. Drury and Henning bring tenderness to their outsider’s love story as they create a place where they belong, providing a sweet ending to Violet’s long journey.

Several supporting cast members bring solid performances to this show as well. Elsa Hargis as young Violet has beautiful vocals lost at the top of Thursday night’s show due to microphone difficulty. Luckily, those issues were resolved. Hargis shares her scenes with her father played with conviction by Jon Ernstberger. I remember him from METC’s previous production of Addams Family and was happy to see him return as another parental figure. His performance of a man who unintentionally harms his child is heartbreaking yet redeeming in resolution as Violet is faced with uneasy answers. Sean Turley brings a nice man-behind-the-curtain quality as the televangelist preacher. Mimi Housewright, Amanda Ogburn, and Mary Kate Vangas are vocal powerhouses in their scenes and at the top of Act Two.

Even though Sutton Foster starred in the original production on Broadway in 2014, Violet is still a show that few people have heard of. More shows like this need to be produced by local companies. The music is wonderful, the story is engaging and the message of loving what is on the inside and outside is more relevant than ever. 


May 30, 31, June 1, 5, 6, & 7 @ 7:30 pm
June 2 @ 3 pm, June 8 @ 5pm

Minds Eye Theater Company
Henry Clay Theater
602 S 3rd Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Kate Barry has worked with many different companies around town since graduating in 08 from Bellarmine University. She’s worked with CenterStage, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions. She used to work in the box office at that little performing arts center on Main Street but now she helps save the planet. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. Her play “Catcher Released” won an honorable mention with the Kentucky Playwrights Workshop. She has written for LEO Weekly and as well. When she is not writing, she teaches yoga. Thanks for reading!