Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Violet Hour

Opal Alladin and Austin Lysy
Richard Greenberg's The Violet Hour, continuing at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, through August 2nd, is complex, penetrating and smart. The various elements of the script take time to congeal, but it's worth the wait. A different sort of time-travel experience, the play benefits from Greenberg's wry, dark/noir writing and feel.

Wilson Chin's set, granting a nearly panoramic view of a midtown Manhattan hotel front in 1919, feels enormous. The office windows of Arbiter House (publishing) are slanted and overly huge. John (Austin Lysy) has funding, from his father, to print just one book. One of the selections is a work written by a close college friend. That man, Denny (Brian Avers), desperately wishes to win the hand of blonde Rosamund (Heidi Armbruster) and will demonstrate his merit to the young woman's father with the publication. On the other hand, Jessie (Opal Alladin) presents her memoirs. She's a singer, a diva—John is carrying on an affair with her. Later on, we see that Jesse is deeply troubled.

Pivotal to all that ensues is Gidger (Nat DeWolf) who, at first, seems to be a one-dimensional office worker stuck with mundane chores. As things develop, though, it is Gidger who brings word from the future via pages upon pages of printed matter. A strange machine (in silhouette at the door window) spews forth these discoveries—and accompanying implications. During the first portion of the play, Greenberg's presence and sequences are comedic and/or engaging. He races in with findings. For example, material from a late twentieth century finding informs these early twentieth century individuals that the word gay will take on new meaning years and years later.

This much is clear: the future holds events and occurrences which will be unsettling and tragic. The playwright's characters are young and hopeful but their optimistic dreams could remain unfulfilled. The characters are often animated and agitated. These eager, ardent men and women are set to launch careers and lives. They are, back to reality of this day, about to go to a play—set in 1919.

Greenberg's The Violet Hour is (early on) somewhat convoluted and the exposition is lengthy. The yield, however, is significantly positive. The author is cerebral and innovative. Barry Edelstein, directing, gets it right as he pushes the action forward through crisp pacing.

Chin's set which looms above the audience is enveloping. Edelstein, urging the actors to utilize props, complements what some might construe to be a wordy script. Yes, it's fairly long but it is not tedious. Rather, the playwright strikes an intriguing balance within imaginative and cerebral modes. Chris Lee's lighting design demonstrates, as the second act begins, that this is a twilight/violet time of day.

You have to admire Greenberg's writing. Even if it takes a while to figure out the script's direction, the promise is intriguing. The central dramatic question involves John's choice of works for publication. If Gidger serves as catalyst for plot evolution, John drives the story forward. The tension within The Violet Hour builds by increments and reaches a crescendo near the play's conclusion. There is an implied tumultuous moment. To discover Greenberg's means of resolution, see the play. The true star of this play is its talented author.

The Violet Hour continues at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts through August 2nd. For ticket information, please call (413) 236-8888.  

Photo: Kevin Sprague ©2008

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- Fred Sokol

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