A father is chopping wood while his daughter stands nearby. In a freak accident the ax blade flies off its handle and hits her in the face. She's left with a disfiguring scar and this makes life almost unbearable for the main character in Violet, about to go on stage at Queensbury Theatre.
Teresa Zimmerman plays the title character who saves her money to pay for traveling to a TV evangelist in the hopes that he will heal her and make her beautiful. The story, inspired by the short story, The Ugliest Pilgrim by Doris Betts is set in the Deep South in 1964 and was a Tony-nominated Broadway musical in 2014.
"I feel that at the heart of it there's a story about empathy, the empathy we have for others, the empathy that we have for ourselves," Zimmerman says. "Violet is a girl that's on a pilgrimage to see a televangelist who she hopes will heal a scar that has disfigured her face. So she's on this bus and even though she's from the South she hasn't experienced much of it because she's lived in the mountains her whole life. She's experiencing peoples' reactions to her scar and she's also experiencing the stories around her.
"She meets two soldiers on the way. One is white and one is black. And while she feels like she can empathize with the black soldier in terms of feeling like an outsider being judged for the way that she looks she also realizes that she can’t quite comprehend the magnitude of what his existence really means in the South," Zimmerman says.
What's interesting too is the "amount of grace" Violet is shown despite the hardened exterior she presents to others, Zimmerman says. "I love that the way she has to heal inside."
Zimmerman, who became interested in musical theater in high school, says she wanted to work at Queensbury when she found out it had grown into a professional theater. Growing up, she says she almost got derailed into beauty school but a teacher urged her to consider other options. She applied to one school, Sam Houston State which is known for its musical theater curriculum, got in and the rest was history or as she puts it: "It changed my life." Interestingly enough, she comes from a musical family; both her parents were performers in Germany, she says.
Since then she's performed in a number of theaters and even the Houston Grand Opera's when it did its musical theater version of Wagner's Ring cycle entitled Das Barbecü .
"I heard about Queensbury from some friends of mine who'd done Unlock'd. When they announced their season I was really excited about Violet because I really liked that story and I was excited because they were operating now as a professional theater."
In the musical, a crucial scene involves a poker game. As it tuns out, Violet has some skills there.
"She learns how to play poker when she’s a young girl because her father notices that she's failing math. And she's failing math because she has to walk by this group of boys to do her equations on the chalkboard. So she's used to these attacks; she's used to being made fun of," Zimmerman says.
The music moves from North Carolina blue grass, adding in R&B, gospel, some blues and rock and roll, Zimmerman says. Members of the ten person cast end up playing a lot of different characters, she says. And she hopes that what Queensbury is offering will appeal to people who want to see more contemporary works. "The classics are wonderful," she says. "But Houston is the most diverse city in the country so we need to have work that represents that; let people see that."
Performances of Violet are scheduled for September 6-23 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at Queensbury Theatre, 12777 Queensbury Lane.$25-$50. For information visit queensburytheatre.org.
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