Theater Latte Da's Violet offers sweet hope


A woman disfigured by a vicious scar across her face. A man whose black skin draws disdain in the American South of 1964. A soldier whose pretty face buys him love affairs, cheap. A romantic triangle.

These are the elements of Violet, a musical with book and lyrics by Brian Crawley and music by Jeanine Tesori, that opened at the Guthrie Saturday night. In the span of two hours, the actors of Theater Latte Da delve into emotional pain and the strength that springs despite--or perhaps because--of it. The title character bears the mark of a wayward hatchet across her cheek and nose, and the internal scars to match. On a voyage to Tennessee to visit a televangelist who she believes can make her pretty, Violet meets two soldiers who help her learn about herself.

The characters are well-drawn, and beautifully portrayed. Britta Ollmann's Violet is acted with a mix of spunk and shame--an endearing combination that makes her both likeable and easy to relate to. The two supporting actors, Azudi Onyejekwe as Flick, and Randy Schmeling as Monty, deliver performances that match Ollmann's; Onyejekwe's Flick has an admirable courage born of adversity, Schmeling's Monty weakness of character that accompanies those whose lives have been too easy. The bond between Violet and her father, played by Dieter Bierbrauer, and the strains placed on it by the accident, is especially poignant. Both Bierbrauer and Maeve Moynihan, an Edina High School student who plays the young Violet, steal the stage when they are on it: their father-daughter chemistry is intense.

The staging is simple. Inside the Dowling Studio on the 9th floor of the Guthrie, a telephone pole shaped like a crucifix dominates the stage; characters sit on suitcases and trunks for bus seats and hotel bunks. The orchestra of three--a pianist, a guitarist, and a violinist--are appropriately low-key for the small space.

The audience surrounds the stage on three sides, but most of the action faces forward--so try for a seat in the center section. Tickets run $22 to $30. Violet plays through March 21 and should not be missed.