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
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.”
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