`The Violet Hour' by Rep Stage rates as fine production


Howard Live


Would it be a blessing if we knew what the future was going to bring? Or are we better off not knowing?

Richard Greenberg explores that question in his brilliant comedy-drama The Violet Hour, which Rep Stage is presenting through Nov. 20.

It's April 1, 1919. (Greenberg never makes the point, but April Fool's Day is an appropriate time for the surreal things that are about to happen.) World War I is over; the Twenties are just around the corner. The audience knows that a flowering of American art and literature is on the way, as well as a revolution in manners and morals that will banish the last traces of Victorianism.

John Pace Seavering isn't aware of all that, naturally, but he feels sure the future holds great things for him. John comes from a prominent family. He has a little money and is using it to set up as a publisher. The action takes place in his office, a dingy, paper-filled loft, magnificently created by set designer Richard Montgomery.

John can afford to publish only one book at first. Should it be a novel by college friend Denis McCleary or the memoirs of jazz singer Jessie Brewster? Pressures exist on both sides.

Denis and an heiress, Rosamund Plinth, are deeply in love. She is promised to a rich man's son, but her industrialist father would let her marry a writer if he gave some sign of future success - such as a book.

On the other side, John's admiration for Jessie's memoirs is reinforced by the fact that the two are having a torrid affair. To introduce his theme, the playwright uses a plot gimmick. It could be termed a deus ex machina, but machinus ex machina would be more accurate, because the device Greenberg adopts is a machine.

We don't know who sent it to John, and Greenberg doesn't bother to explain. It's April Fool's Day, remember? But the machine spews out many pages of text, all from books written later in the 20th century.

These glimpses of what is to come leave John shaken. He sees differing versions of the future that illustrate the myriad possibilities of life. Does Jessie really die of drug addiction a few years later? Do Denis and Rosamund commit suicide, or does Rosamund marry Denis against her father's wishes, then develop psychological problems and turn against him? Most important, will the decision John must make about which book to publish lead to someone's ruin?

These tragic scenes are balanced by interludes of comedy in which the playwright has fun contrasting the vocabularies of 1919 and 1999 and kidding the academic and intellectual attitudes of our time.

Browsing through books of the future, John finds scholars have explored his career and those of Denis, Jessie and Rosamund. He learns he will become a successful publisher, but is not pleased when one biographer characterizes him as cold and dictatorial and another suggests there had been a homosexual relationship between him and Denis.

Heading an excellent cast, Ian Lockhart (John) and Timothy Andres Pabon (Denis) interact with the formality appropriate to a pair of Princeton graduates in 1919. Lockhart retains the stiffness throughout, foreshadowing the authority of his later career. Pabon adds a strong measure of charm to Denis, who was not socially equal to his fellow Princeton men but won popularity on campus with his charisma.

Deidra LaWan Starnes presents a cool, mature, wise Jessie, and Megan Anderson paints Rosamund as bubbly but with no lack of intelligence.

As John's editorial assistant, Gidger, Bruce R. Nelson gets the show off to a great start and ably carries much of Greenberg's intelligent, imaginative comedy.

The high quality of script and production makes it easy to overlook a few anachronisms. Under Kasi Campbell's direction, The Violet Hour is a fine presentation of a dazzling play.

Rep Stage presents The Violet Hour at 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 20 in Theater Outback at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Reservations: 410-772-4900 or www. howardcc.edu/repstage.

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