Like the Dreyfus Affair and the Teapot Dome scandal, nobody gives much thought to the Lindbergh Baby. We will never be quizzed on its particulars, and everyone involved is long dead. So what if the most famous American aviator lost his toddler to a murderous kidnapper? We have royal weddings to watch.
But Violet Sharp, by William Cameron, vividly recounts this celebrity horror story, and as the gothic plot unfolds, we are reminded that famous people with insane problems long predate Access Hollywood. Cameron's script is new, and his theater company, Terra Nova, is newish. Yet if Sharp is any indication, this artistic director has an exciting road ahead. Sharp is smart, emotional, thoroughly researched and well acted. Truly, infanticide has never been so much fun to watch.
In 1932, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh discover their baby is missing. The abduction becomes a global obsession. And the key to this puzzle is a spunky British maid, Violet Sharp, who toils in the Lindbergh mansion and may know everything -- or perhaps nothing. Her manner is so defensive and convoluted that police are flabbergasted. Is Sharp innocent? Did she inform the kidnappers? Did she steal the baby herself?
Do yourself a favor and avoid Wikipedia before watching this show, because the story's twists will astound history naïfs. Sharp's power comes in the form of Theo Allyn, who plays Violet, and Sam Turich as Capt. Harry Walsh. The play's long interrogation scenes are riveting, because Allyn and Turich are such perfect sparring partners. As a world-weary cop, Turich is fast-talking and forceful. Meanwhile, Allyn's Violet is plucky yet proper, a woman who revises her story and evades questions endlessly. These are two of the most naturalistic actors I've seen on a Pittsburgh stage, and with each new factoid, we side with Violet, then Walsh, then back to Violet, for nearly two hours.
It's hard to tell an epic story in theater, and like so many historical dramas, Sharp sometimes bogs down in detail. Such playwrights often write pageants or screenplays by accident. A generic reporter, called "Adela," recites paragraphs of bland exposition. But Cameron uses her sparingly. History, he knows, should never stand in the way of the story.
VIOLET SHARP continues through June 25. Grey Box Theatre, 3595 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412-394-3353 or www.terranovatheatregroup.org.
- Photo courtesy of Alex Etling.
- Sam Turich (left) and Theo Allyn in Terra Nova's Violet Sharp