The Violet Hour – Max & Louie Productions
Andrea Torrence – stlouistheatresnob.com, August 27, 2012
“It’s that time — that wonderful New York hour when the evening’s about to reward you for that day”. This quote from one of the characters, Denis McCleary, is how he explains the title for his book, and serves as the title for Richard Greenberg’s 2003 play, The Violet Hour.
It’s 1919, and everything takes place within the tight, messy New York office of John Pace Seavering (Drew Pannebecker), a recent graduate and fledgling publisher, and his loyal but overwrought assistant, Gidger (Antonio Rodriguez).
John gets a visit from his ex-college roommate, Denis McCleary (Jake Ferree), anxious to find out if John has had a chance to read his book. Anthology is more like it, as the tome that Denis has written takes up 3 crates worth of space in the office. Denis has just quit his job, and needs to have his book published so the rich father of his girlfriend Rosamund (Betsy Bowman) won’t think he’s a complete loser. Denis and John are very different, but obviously very close friends. We are then introduced to John’s secret lover, an African-American songstress named Jessie Brewster (Monica Parks). She’s got a book she wants published, too — her memoirs. She hopes to set the record straight about her life growing up as the daughter of a sharecropper. Although Jessie is about 14 years older than John, he admires her struggles and accomplishments.
Problem is, although John’s father is loaded, John only takes a pittance for himself. Because he is confined by limited resources, he can only afford to publish one book. While grappling with his decision about which book to publish, Gidger hails the unexpected arrival of an unusual machine that after awhile, spews out page after compelling page that John and Gidger can’t tear themselves away from.
Here’s where my personal predicament comes in regarding how much to disclose of the absorbing second act. Hmmm… Let’s just say that this machine informs John and Gidger’s perspective of the world, while giving their own lives, and those around them, a startling perspective of their own.
Under Sydnie Grosberg Ronga’s wonderful direction, this talented cast skillfully drives Greenberg’s plot to it’s unpredictable last scenes. Drew Pannebecker gives us a clearly drawn, pedigreed John Pace Seavering in a great performance. Jake Ferree as Denis McCleary makes for a perfect counter-part to Pannebecker as his effusive pal, full of big plans for the future and hopelessly in love. The always rock-solid Antonio Rodriguez provides the comic relief as Gidger in a memorable turn, full of manic energy, but he keeps himself from going over the top. Betsy Bowman’s Rosamund Plinth, McCleary’s love interest, is pitched as upper-crust, but slightly off-kilter, and Monica Parks gives Jessie Brewster an air of worldly elegance.
Mark Wilson’s handsome set is framed with projections of arched windows, and is complimented by Maureen Berry’s provocative lighting design. Amanda Werre’s sound design can be a little abrupt in a couple of places, but otherwise adds to some of the more surreal moments of the play very nicely, and Ryan Hanson provides the cast with some very handsome costumes.
I wish I could give more details, but well… just go check it out for yourself! It’s an intriguing, enjoyable play that leaves a solid impression.