Barrington Stage’s ‘Violet Hour’ is superbly crafted production

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Clocking in at 21⁄2 hours, including intermission, “The Violet Hour” is one big
PHOTOGRAPHER:

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Clocking in at 21⁄2 hours, including intermission, “The Violet Hour” is one big hunk of a play, with lots of laughs; some grand themes, such as class, race and gender; and torrents of dazzling words.

‘The Violet Hour’

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

WHEN: Through Aug. 2

HOW MUCH: $56-$36

MORE INFO: (413) 236-8888

It’s a script you’ll want to see with a gaggle of garrulous friends who delight in deconstructing. Everyone will certainly have an opinion, for good and for bad: Why else go to the theater?

It’s April 1, 1919, the Fool’s Day, in the New York office of fledgling book publisher John Pace Seavering (Austin Lysy), a twentysomething, well-to-do Princeton grad looking for the right book. He’s assisted by Gidger (the fabulous Nat DeWolf), who ushers in hopefuls Denis McCleary (Brian Avers), one of John’s classmates, but not so wealthy; and Jessie Brewster (Opal Alladin), a black singer d’un certain age and a memoirist who happens to be, on the sly, John’s paramour. Denis’ lover Rosamund Plinth (Heidi Armbruster), the daughter of a rich meat packer, completes the quintet.

But wait. Whatever problems they were all going to have in the first place are compounded by the sudden appearance of a machine that spits out pages of books from the end of the 20th century; in other words, John and Gidger now know what is going to happen.

“Twilight Zone”-ish? Sure. In a serious vein, it’s an opportunity to see that the future has its risks for people we know and love, and Seavering feels that responsibility. In a lighter vein, Greenberg mocks the culture 1919 has morphed into: ours. The depiction is less than flattering, so pompous have some of our preoccupations (particularly in the academy) become. Greenberg also has fun with the current state of the Mother Tongue. In a funny and poignant riff on the word “gay,” for example, uber-gay Gidger unconsciously reveals how being oneself depends on having the words to name oneself.

This production is a dream, starting with Wilson Chin’s pop-up book set and Jessica Ford’s period-perfect costumes. Is there any explaining exactly how Avers, as a desperate artist, reaches the top emotionally, but doesn’t go over it; how Armbruster’s every physical gesture punctuates her superb line readings; how Alladin suddenly moves you to tears in the “show me your arms” scene; how DeWolf aptly channels the ghost of Truman Capote; and how Lysy makes John a flesh-and-blood center, around which these fiery planets circle?

Yes: it’s the inspired direction/staging of Barry Edelstein, who helped each of these extraordinary actors stay the course, with unflagging intensity, until the end.

If Shakespeare said it more succinctly with “All the world’s a stage” and Serling boiled it down to a half hour, Greenberg’s juicy script, some self-indulgent sidetracks included, is a beaut.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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