Bill Cameron’s new play Violet Sharp has an appeal similar to that of a good episode of Law and Order, where the central question goes beyond “Who dunnit?” to “What’s the real story here?” In this case, the crime under investigation is that of the kidnap/murder of the Lindbergh baby in 1932, and the story the play unearths, layer by layer, is that of Violet Sharp, a suspect in the case (later, apparently, absolved) who committed suicide after multiple interrogations by the police. Cameron bases his story on documentary evidence, and there are traces of “docudrama” in the form of a newspaper reporter (played with delightful precision by Allison Cahill) who fills in the facts between scenes, but for the most part this is a fictional recreation of what might have happened behind the scenes during the investigation of one of the crimes of the century to cause a vibrant young woman to end her life.
The story is compelling, and the production at the Grey Box serves it well. The heart of the conflict plays out in the interrogation scenes between police captain Harry Walsh (Sam Turich) and Violet (Theo Allen). Allen is utterly convincing as the beleaguered, badgered victim of what can only be called bad timing: her alibi for the night of the kidnapping has the potential to expose her to her employers as a “loose” woman. Allen’s face, demeanor, and body language all clearly convey the confusion the dilemma poses for her: in her attempt to tell the truth without having to tell the whole truth, her increasingly flustered, nervous, and at times angry responses to questioning only serve to make her more suspect. It’s Turich, however, who steals this show with his sharp and scary portrayal of the investigator specializing in the “bad cop” role. While the story puts us squarely on Violet’s side (we’re pretty sure she’s innocent throughout the play), Turich’s three-dimensional interpretation of the role helps us sympathize with Walsh’s drive to get at the truth (and with his frustration at Violet’s stonewalling).
Cameron has structured the plot nicely–it weaves backward and forward through time in a way that allows us to accept why we are being asked to wait for the “real story” to get revealed. Like all good police procedurals, at the end of Violet Sharp we’ve come to a new understanding of the mysteries of human behavior through the investigation of a crime, and even if Cameron’s answer to the question of why Violet took the poison that ended her life is only speculation, his play brings us to a deeper understanding of the way in which innocents come to seem guilty when they have private secrets to hide.