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'Violet' explores looks, love in rolling trip across South

Company Carolina presents the musical 'Violet.' It is showing October 9-12 at Historic Playmakers Theatre.
Company Carolina presents the musical 'Violet.' It is showing October 9-12 at Historic Playmakers Theatre.

The play is co-directed by Greg Kable, a senior lecturer in the Department of Dramatic Art, and sophomore Emily McGregor, a first-time director.

“It’s a short story written by Doris Betts in 1969, who was a distinguished and longtime faculty member in the Chapel Hill English department,” Kable said.

Originally published as “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” “Violet” follows the journey of Violet Karl across the South from Spruce Pine, N.C., to Tulsa, Okla. She bears facial scars from a terrible accident and believes that a faraway televangelist might be able to heal her disfigurement.

First-year Dalia Blevins, who played four roles, said the emotional honesty in “Violet” connects with audiences.

“My favorite part was near the end, when she learns to forgive her father and through that, forgive herself,” she said.

Boarding a Greyhound bus in 1964, Violet finds exceptional people on her journey that challenge her to re-evaluate her outlook on the hand life dealt her. Although it was written during the civil rights movement 50 years ago, “Violet” speaks to a modern audience.

“It touches on social issues that we still have: race and the stigmas placed on women’s beauty,” Blevins said.

“In the South, that is something that is still propagated a lot.”

The musical tackles the complexity of the South, which exemplifies the best in humanity — hospitality, family life and faith — yet is still plagued by a dark past it has not entirely escaped.

Senior Emma Gutt said it was fulfilling to create a piece of art so layered with scenes of home.

“There are mentions of Raleigh, Charlotte,” she said. “Oh, and barbecue!”

Broadway musicals are famous for glitzy musical numbers with dramatic dancing, but “Violet” turns its musical format into a way to explore the somber, bittersweet and romantic aspects of its story.

Sophomore James Scalise, who had five roles, acknowledged the unique direction of the musical

“It is not your average musical. It isn’t over the top,” he said. “You don’t hear many musicals with this strong of a message.”

For Kable, bringing the nuance and beauty of “Violet” to a new generation of students was part of a personal journey.

“I was reaching an anniversary point in my own career of when I moved here and started at Carolina. I moved from Yale to start teaching and working, and I was exposed to this piece around that time,” he said.

“There are certain things in terms of people that grab hold and seize you, and you can’t understand why until you live with that a little bit.”

Through his production of “Violet,” a stranger helps the audience gain insight into a place that many in Chapel Hill call home.

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