The Hippo


Nov 19, 2019








Alyssa Dumas, who performs in Violet at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre this weekend. Jasmin Hunter photos.

See Violet

Where: Seacoast Repertory Theatre, 125 Bow St., Portsmouth
When: March 10 through April 10, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., special showing March 24 at 10 a.m.
Tickets: $20-$38
Contact:, 433-4472

The Seacoast Rep presents Violet

By Kelly Sennott

The Seacoast Repertory Theatre’s upcoming production, Violet, is about scars, both visible and imaginary, and it hits the Portsmouth stage March 10 through April 2. Its designer run-through a week before showtime left Artistic Director Miles Burns “crying like a baby.”

“There are so many messages you can get out of Violet,” Burns said via phone. “It’s gritty, and it’s real, and it’s true to life.”
Violet is based on the 1973 short story The Ugliest Pilgrim by Doris Betts, with music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics and book by Brian Crawley. It went off-Broadway in 1997, and its 2014 Broadway run won four Tony Awards. 
The musical takes place in 1964 and follows a country girl, Violet Karl, whose face was disfigured in an accident as a child. Hoping to find a preacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who can heal her scar, she boards a Greyhound bus in North Carolina and is later joined by two soldiers along the way, Monty and Flick, the latter of whom is African-American. The men challenge her faith in the preacher and compete for her affections while the world judges their mixed-race group. 
The play is not one audiences see often, but it’s the kind of theater Burns has been itching to see at the Rep for a while. It features an 11-person cast and intricate sets by Brandon James and Ben Hart, who also designed for Avenue Q and Reefer Madness in Portsmouth. Burns said the music blends country, rock ’n’ roll, bluegrass, gospel and musical theater styles.
Makeup design is less intensive than you might think; for this production, the scar on Violet’s face isn’t painted on, but imagined. Audiences see the scar in observing what others say and how they react to Violet.
“It’s one of the beautiful things about theater; if the story is told in the right way, they’re going to feel like she has a scar on her face based on how she associates with other people,” Burns said.
Performing as Violet is Alyssa Dumas, a Plymouth State grad who made her Rep debut performing in The Marvelous Wonderettes last year. She said Violet’s mannerisms have been choreographed carefully to create the illusion. 
“She’s obviously very self-conscious about this scar. She makes sure to leave her hair down, leaning against one side of her face,” she said.
Dumas was surprised to be cast as Violet because, at five feet, one inch, she’s much shorter than the role’s Broadway originator, Sutton Foster. It goes against her “type” as an actress. But that’s why she likes the Rep.
“They go for talent and people who are passionate, and that’s huge today when it comes to auditioning for shows. For [other companies], it’s about, do you have the look, and do you look good next to this person? It’s just about how much you have to give at the Rep,” Dumas said.
A lot goes into deciding a theater season. You want to present something new, but you also want to sell tickets. Sometimes it means creating a fine balance of new and recognizable plays, and sometimes it means building trust from audiences. Burns has seen that trust growing, with strong ticket sales to lesser-known productions like Satchmo at the Waldorf and Laughter on the 23rd Floor. 
Violet is about how, wherever there’s darkness, you can find light, and that there’s more to see of a person, and more to see of yourself than what’s on the outside,” Burns said. “It’s so relevant. … It’s a show I thought we wouldn’t be able to do for years, but people are taking a chance on new theater, and while this play isn’t new, it’s something our audiences haven’t seen before.” 

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