Greenberg play ‘The Violet Hour’ has Shakespearian feel

As much as he loves Shakespeare, Barry Edelstein has no problem directing the works of living playwr
Barry Edelstein is director of "The Violet Hour" at Barrington Stage Company.
Barry Edelstein is director of "The Violet Hour" at Barrington Stage Company.

As much as he loves Shakespeare, Barry Edelstein has no problem directing the works of living playwrights. After all, when rehearsal is dragging and you’re unsure of what direction to take, the playwright might be able to provide some inspiration.

“Most of my work is with playwrights who are dead. So when I get the chance to do contemporary work, I love it,” said Edelstein, who is in charge of the Barrington Stage Company production of Richard Greenberg’s 2003 work, “The Violet Hour,” currently in previews and opening Sunday. “I’ve never had a bad experience with a playwright. They wrote it, and sometimes you need to know what they were thinking and what their intention was. We’re all working together. The theater is all about collaboration.”

‘The Violet Hour’

WHERE: Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass.

WHEN: Through Aug. 13. Previews today through Saturday, opens Sunday. Performances at 7 p.m., Tuesdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Fridays, 8 p.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays.

HOW MUCH: Preview tickets $20-$15. Regular performances are $56-$36

MORE INFO: (413) 236-8888 or

Greenberg, who won a Tony Award for “Take Me Out” in 2002, hasn’t offered Edelstein any assistance yet, but he’s only a phone call away.

“I’ve followed his work over the years and I’ve seen a lot of his stuff produced in New York over the years,” said Edelstein. “I’ve spoken to him on the phone but not about this play and I know he’ll make himself available if we need him, but I don’t think we will. His plays are always so smart and erudite, because he is such an articulate writer. When I first looked at this play, I wanted to do it. It’s very smart, and it’s very funny.”

Set in 1919 New York

“The Violet Hour,” opened on Broadway in 2003 to mostly positive reviews, although it only ran for 54 performances, the scheduled length of its subscription run. The story revolves around recent Princeton grad John Pace Seavering, played by Alex Lysy, who is embarking on a publishing career following the conclusion of World War I. It is set in New York City.

“It’s 1919, and John is a young publisher who is trying to choose between two books as he starts a publishing career,” said Edelstein. “One is a rambling mess by a dear friend, and the other is by his secret paramour, and he can’t quite decide what to do. He wishes he could see the future and then he would know which one to publish.”

When a mysterious machine arrives in his office that tells the future, the answers don’t necessarily get any easier for Seavering.

“The play is about big questions like fate and love,” said Edelstein. “Even with the machine, John has some very difficult decisions, and then drama ensues. It’s a very touching story.”

Although this work is his first for Barrington Stage, Edelstein is no stranger to western Massachusetts. He has directed at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, including “As You Like It,” with Gwyneth Paltrow. When he isn’t directing a production in the New York area, you might find him teaching Shakespeare at the Juilliard School or New York University. He is also currently director of the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare Initiative and Shakespeare Lab.

Relish for the language

A graduate of Oxford University where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar, Edelstein has also authored books on Shakespeare and is soon to come out with “Bardisms: Shakespeare for All Occasions.” While he doesn’t like to compare today’s playwrights with Shakespeare, Greenberg and “The Violet Hour” hold up pretty well against the Bard’s best.

“Greenberg’s language, like Shakespeare’s, is extremely sophisticated and complicated,” said Edelstein. “The language doesn’t resemble Shakespearean English in any way, but there is a density to it, a relish for the language that we can all appreciate. That’s what strikes me about the play that is very similar to what happens with Shakespeare.”

A native of Bergen County, N.J., Edelstein made the leap from performing to directing rather quickly.

“I started out as an actor like everyone else, but I kind of fell into directing in college,” he said. “I had some very good teachers, and those good teachers pointed me toward directing. I don’t think it was because I was a bad actor. Maybe that was it, but I think it was more likely because I just had an aptitude for directing.”

Edelstein has also directed television and movie productions, but the stage is obviously his first love.

“I didn’t dislike Los Angeles, and I certainly met some amazing people,” he said. “I was happy to be a part of that and I spent four years in Hollywood. But in a perfect world, I would stay in the theater. That just feels like home for me.”

Energetic cast

While he has directed some of the business’s most recognizable faces (along with Paltrow, he’s worked with David Strathairn, John Turturro, Uma Thurman and Julianna Margulies), Edelstein also enjoys working with a young and relatively inexperienced cast like the one he’s put together for “The Violet Hour.” Lysy, who has understudied on Broadway and has numerous off-Broadway credits, will be joined on the stage by Opal Alladin as Jessie, Brian Avers as Denny, Heidi Armbruster as Rosamund and Nat De Wolf as Gidger.

“I’ve directed Gwyneth Paltrow; so I’ve been down that sparkly road, and it is very exciting and fun,” said Edelstein. “But this road I’m on now is also very exciting. These are five young actors who have really made a commitment to the stage. You can see it in their work. They’re passionate about the theater.”

Alladin, who understudied on Broadway as Chelsea in the production of “On Golden Pond” that starred James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams, was a student of Edelstein’s at Juilliard.

“It’s great to have the opportunity to work with a former student of mine,” said Edelstein, “and it’s great to be around these young hot shots like Alladin. They’re all in their 20s or early 30s, and they’re all very talented.”

Edelstein will head to New York when his summer gig in the Berkshires is up and return to teaching and directing.

“It’s a great feeling to get out of the city for a while and go to a beautiful place like the Berkshires,” he said. “This is my first time in Pittsfield, but I’ve been to Williamstown four times and it’s great to be free of the distractions and pressures of New York City. How could you not want to spend a summer here.”

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