In the ‘Violet’

Jennifer K Mahal

Richard Greenberg can’t remember the moment he found the idea that

lead to “The Violet Hour,” which opened the Julianne Argyros Stage at

South Coast Repertory on Friday. In a way that’s fitting, as the play

contains themes of time, history and lost moments.

“When I get an idea, I should probably just date and time and

notarize it,” the playwright joked on the phone from his Costa Mesa

hotel room.

Taking place April 1, 1919, the play explores the decision that

must be made by book publisher John Pace Seaverling (Hamish

Linklater) between the novel of his best friend, Denis McCleary

(Curtis Mark Williams), and the autobiography of his mulatto lover,

songstress Jessie Brewster (Michelle Hurd). Seaverling can only

afford to publish one book at his fledgling firm and the choice could

make or ruin him.

Complicating matters is Rosamund Plinth (Kate Arrington), the

heiress Denis wants to marry but won’t be able to unless his book,

titled “The Violet Hour” and contained in three crates, comes to

fruition. Add in Seaverling’s frenzied assistant Gidger (Mario

Cantone), missing theater tickets and a mysterious machine that spews

paper and you have the newest work from SCR’s most produced living


This is the eighth Greenberg play to be produced at SCR --

including “The Dazzle,” which closed the former Second Stage last

season -- and the sixth world premiere. The Yale graduate is best

known for 1997’s “Three Days of Rain” and 2000’s “Everett Beekin,”

both directed for SCR by Evan Yionoulis, who also directs “The Violet

Hour.” Greenberg’s most recent play, “Take Me Out,” is playing to

packed houses off Broadway.

“I think if plays are good, they have to exceed your intention,”

said Greenberg, who was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance and the

relationship between F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in writing “The

Violet Hour.” “I think the best work is probably a failed attempt to

be unlike yourself.”

If anyone knows what Greenberg is like, it is Yionoulis, who has

been friends with the playwright since their days at Yale. This is

the fifth play of Greenberg’s that she’s directed.

“When I read Rich’s plays, I hear them,” said Yionoulis, who is

also the chair of the department of acting at Yale School of Drama.

“I fancy I know how they’re supposed to go.”

The director equates working on a new script to exploring a place

not found on any map. Getting a chance to do it as the opening of a

brand new theater, that’s just a bonus.

“It’s a very sweet space,” she said of the Argyros Stage. “It has

a great energy, it’s very intimate, and the relationship between the

audience and the stage is really fabulous.”

Greenberg has other words for it.

“The new theater is very, very beautiful and subtly odd,” he said.

“I think it has a very original relationship of stage to audience,

which I can’t explain, only sense.”