John Pace Seavering has a problem. Taking a stipend from his wealthy father, he has opened a publishing business in bustling 1919 New York. But he has two options of what to publish as his first (and possibly only, if it flops) book: either the gargantuan first novel by his college friend Denis (which could legitimize him in the eyes of the father of the girl he loves, a wealthy heiress named Rosamund), or the autobiography of his mistress Jessie, a black jazz singer of some notoriety. His assistant Gidger announces that a mysterious machine has arrived and is spitting out paper, but Seavering doesn’t take notice till they discover that the machine is printing books from the future (which include information about the characters’ fates). This is the world of Richard Greenberg's The Violet Hour. As information from the future comes to Seavering, he must decide which books to publish, which relationships to keep, and ultimately which lives to save. Greenberg’s script is intriguing and quite funny, though like the work of Tom Stoppard it requires strict attention to get all the jokes.
The cast is up to the challenge of making this crisp and witty characters live through their highly unusual circumstances. The standouts for me were Heather Lee Harper, who never lets Rosamund’s spoiled rich girl frivolity cover up the depth of her true feeling; and Andrew Sellon as the much-put-upon Gidger, who provides most of the comic relief with near-flawless timing. John P. Keller does great work as Seavering, Lincoln Thompson hits all the right notes of quiet desperation as Denis, and though Cheryl Freeman is not quite up to the verbal dexterity of her colleagues, she acts the heck out of Jessie, fully portraying this complicated woman.
The Active Theater, as usual, gives a sterling production; they certainly do not stint on the technical aspects of their work. Craig Napoliello’s set is a lovely little publishing office, costumes by Bobby Pearce are gorgeous and period-appropriate, Sound and Lights by Jacob Subotnick and Mike Inwood (respectively) are great. This highly intellectual play is definitely worth a look.
The Active Theater presents
The Violet Hour
By Richard Greenberg
Directed by Nathaniel Shaw
At Workshop Theater, 312 W. 36th Street
MARCH 9th - 25th, 2012
Tickets available at http://www.theactivetheater.com/
Photo credit, Angela Benefiel: L-R Andrew Sellon & John P. Keller