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The Violet Hour

a Drama
by Richard Greenberg

VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 2280

SHOWING : April 26, 2007 - May 20, 2007



It's the dawn of the Jazz Age. John Pace Seavering is set to start his own publishing house. A glimpse of the future turns his life around, as he confronts an old friend, anew mistress, and a strange machine with a penchant for spewing books from the future.

Director Joe Gfaller
Dennis McCleary Brian Crawford
John Pace Seavering Bobby Labartino
Gidger Doyle Reynolds
Jessie Brewster Yvonne Singh
Rosamund Plinth Heather Starkel
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The Future is a Despot!
by Dedalus
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Here’s what the future holds in store for you: a pseudo-review that starts with a joke, attempts a profound epiphany of life, describes a vivid play, and ends with a whimper. So it goes.

There’s a joke I’ve always found especially layered. It’s very simple: “An Optimist is a person who believes we live in the Best of All Possible Worlds. A Pessimist is a person who’s afraid the Optimist is right.” One reason I like this joke is because it is really a metaphor for theatre – two people can see the same thing and see it with completely opposite responses.

For some reason (maybe I’ll find it soon), I was reminded of this while watching Richard Greenberg’s “The Violet Hour” at 7 Stages last weekend. Described as “F. Scott Fitzgerald meets The Twilight Zone,” it is essentially a philosphical debate between a man and the future. In this case, the Future is a hard and cruel despot, a line in the sand that can’t be erased or crossed or changed. It says, essentially, you can’t go back in time to kill Hitler because you didn’t. And yet, by the end, we’re left with the feeling that it doesn’t matter, that the present is Alive and the grim stuff to come is just Fate, a sterile philosphical construct that won’t stop you from smelling the roses. It’s essentially the story of an Optimist who is given stark and vivid proof that the Pessimist is right, yet still chooses to remain an Optimist.

It is April 1, 1919. We’re in an office in NYC’s Flatiron Building (beautifully suggested by the clever set by Jon Williamson). John Pace Seavering is the tenant, a new publisher, starting a literary career with his family’s wealth (or at least the miniscule portion of it he feels he can keep without selling out). He has the choice of publishing one of two books – a new novel by his old friend Denis McLeary that breaks new literary ground, or an autobiography by his mistress, an African-American Chanteuse named Jessie Brewster. Similarities with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker are purely intentional. The problem is, he can only publish one – and the “loser” will, in effect, have their life permanently ruined by whatever choice he makes.

Act One is a series of two-person scenes, a succession of discussions, debates, reminiscences, and seductions. It’s a wordy and talky gabfest that clevely captures the spirit of the onset of the “Jazz Age.” Yet, you can’t help escaping the feeling that something is awry. Seavering’s “Man Friday”, Gidger (a marvelous Dolye Reynolds, fresh from “I am My Own Wife”), reports that a machine has unexpectedly been delivered and is making churning sounds. Suddenly, all Paper breaks loose as the odd machine starts spewing out reams of printed paper. What’s on the paper is the meat and potatoes of Act Two – Books from the end of the 20th Century. Books that reveal to Seavering a future he can’t comprehend, not to mention “historical” views of what awaits him and his friends and his lover. It makes him think of his life as a “costume period piece” of quaint banality.

The ironies in Act Two should be the stuff of legend. Scenes are built with characters who know what’s to come and characters who don’t. We see the writer McLeary at the start of a relationship with an heiress. Seavering knows how it turns out. He sets out to “change the future,” only to discover that his actions make things worse. But it doesn’t matter – the Future comes with a “reset” button, and things return to their original tragic course. It’s the ultimate Pessimist’s Dream – The Worst of All Possible Futures is actually is better than any of the Alternatives.

And the beauty of the play, of the experience of the play, is his reaction. I won’t tell you what he does, or what the last, stinging line of the play is, because I found great joy in discovering how it ties everything together. Needless to say, it is the ultimate Optimist’s Response.

As I said before, this is a very talky, very wordy play. But the dialog is beautiful, the conversations compelling, and the joys are plentiful if you have the patience to engage them. All the actors (In addition to Mr. Reynolds, they include Brian E. Crawford, Bobby Labartino, Yvonne Singh and Heather Starkel) perfectly suggest the era, perfectly orchestrate the ironies and frustrations and exasperations, perfectly balance the ambivalences and contradictions inherent in the story.

And, to end on that whimpering note I predicted, can you think of anything you’d change if you knew what was to come? Or, more to the point, can you think of anything you’d be disappointed if you couldn’t change? The future, is, after all, a Tyrant! And, just because he suddenly becomes predictable, doesn’t mean he won’t surprise!

-- Brad Rudy (



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