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Review: 'Violet Sharp' at Theatre 40

February 12, 2009 |  4:30 pm

Violet "Baby Lindy/The whole world welcomes you," goes the novelty tune that opens "Violet Sharp" at Theatre 40. Its quiet irony is intentional. William Cameron's fact-based play looks beyond the sensationalism that surrounded the 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's toddler son to focus on one of its other casualties.

That would be the title character (Meredith Bishop), an ambitious young British servant employed by Lindbergh's in-laws, the Morrows. In fragmented sequences overseen by an Adela Rogers St. Johns-esque commentator (Amy Lloyd), the investigation encompasses the Morrow staff, where Violet's shaky responses raise the suspicions of detective Harry Walsh (David Hunt Stafford). Though her employers and fellow domestics vouch for Violet's loyalty, Walsh keeps after his inside-job theory.

Act 1 closes on the outcome of the search for Charles Jr. Act 2 concerns its aftermath, as Violet's reasons for dissembling become apparent, to us if not the public record.

Director David Coleman stages this combination character study and psychological mystery with considerable resource. The spare designs mix black-and-white footage (courtesy of videographer Don Solosan) with Caitlin Erin O'Hare's period costumes and Jeremy Pivnick's typically fine lighting. Despite a wavering accent, Bishop maintains ambivalent intensity as Violet, and Stafford's ruthlessness makes us understand Violet's antagonism. Their colleagues are generally competent, with Lloyd noteworthy in multiple roles, and Christy Holy digs deep as the tormented Scottish baby-sitter. John T. Cogan and Christine Joëlle have their moments as the Lindberghs, though the roles are underdeveloped, as are Violet's younger sister (Rachel Kanouse), and the butler (Daniel Leslie) who proves pivotal to Violet's motivations.

Most problematic is the structure, which often ladles expository facts into dialogue, and a synoptic ending more tidy than enigmatic. "Violet Sharp" is not without worth or imagination, but a latent History Channel aspect dilutes its effect.

--David C. Nichols

"Violet Sharp," Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Runs in repertory, see for schedule. Ends March 12. $20-$22. (310) 364-0535. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo of Amy Lloyd by Ed Krieger