On the set of a dilapidated office space, a play of wit, brash charm and dramatic tension ensnares the audience in its universe of dark frivolity.
Directed by Susie Kemple ’08 and produced by Yotam Barkai ’08, the Yale Dramatic Association’s production of Richard Greenberg’s “The Violet Hour” introduces and resolves (somewhat) the story of a struggle for love, success, understanding and time. While occasionally lapsing in momentum and clarity during the two hours of production, the work succeeds in creating tangible characters whose unfortunate entanglements and relations boldly challenge the audience’s perception of moving — and occasionally disturbing — themes.
The following story grows much more complex as it progresses. Set post-WWI on April 1, 1919, in the paper-strewn office of independent publisher John Pace Seavering (Chad Callaghan ’07), the play concerns John and a choice that involves high stakes. Despite his privileged background, John has only enough capital to produce one book and therefore must choose between two authors.
The first is Denis, or Denny, McCleary (Lee Seymour ’09), John’s impoverished and brash but gifted college friend. His manuscript, also entitled “The Violet Hour” (poetically named after the New York hour during dusk), is so unruly that it lives in a trio of crates beneath John’s desk. Denny must publish his book in order to win the seal of approval to marry the enchanting heiress of the meat-packing industry, Rosamund Plinh (Alexandra Trow ’09), with whom he has fallen madly in love. From his first entrance, Seymour fills the stage with boyish energy, making full use of all props on the stage and peppering John with philosophical ramblings and copious punch lines.
John, however, is also besieged by Jessie Brewster (Natalie Paul ’07), the popular black jazz singer who also happens to be John’s clandestine mistress. In writing her autobiography, she is determined to make her story known to the world. Meanwhile, John and his frazzled, high-strung assistant Gidger (Andrew Ash ’08) must also deal with a machine that has mysteriously appeared in the office, spewing out pages with messages revealing alarming events and facts from the future.
Every character in “The Violet Hour” is in some way extremely lost and desperate. Callaghan, as the main character, notably carries the momentum of each scene. His strength lies in his tiny but effective gestures, which communicate more to the audience than his words. Ash is another clear crowd-pleaser, providing comic relief in between moments of melodrama and confrontations. Though his character spends half the time on the sidelines, awkwardly waiting for his cue, Ash delivers his one-liners with precision and punch. A few gems include “Oh, God, we are never again eating red meat!” and “I am going to have my dog murdered.”
The other actors also perform with solid precision throughout most of the play. Paul especially carries herself well throughout her love scenes with John and during her breakdown in the second half of the show. Trow plays a convincingly “superficial” heiress driven mad by the confines of her privileged life, though her characteristic laugh sounds forced a few times. While monologues are satisfactorily delivered, a few climactic scenes between characters are held back from their full potential by clumsy staging, particularly when actors have their backs turned to the audience, preventing a clear view of face expressions and gestures.
A prominent feature of “The Violet Hour” is the appropriate setting and lighting. The fragmented walls of the office aptly reinforce the idea of instability in the play, and all furnishings and props lend to the atmosphere of a “mad scholar.” Through the use of Technicolor lights and ominous gear-ticking sounds, scenic designer Emily Appelbaum ’08 and sound designer Liam Andrew ’08 successfully portray the presence of the mysterious “machine” without needing to show it on stage. Also, subtle dimming and brightening of lights between scenes involving different characters enhance the distinct moods of different relationships.
“The Violet Hour,” despite a few shortcomings, is a worthy production that will keep audiences entertained until the end, which is somewhat predictable and anticlimactic. While John mocks Denny’s manuscript as a “violet horror,” this production, with the help of a talented cast, promises to be anything but.