Theater Review: The Violet Hour
by Christopher Stephen Soden
April 12, 2011
Imagine a play that’s comedic, yet tragic, pensive, yet playful, full of bravado, yet somehow frail. The premise of The Violet Hour (presented by Upstart Productions at The Green Zone in Dallas through April 23) is quizzical, yet playwright Richard Greenberg manages to excavate an astonishing, visionary plot from some fairly simple ideas. Should we base our decisions on a speculated outcome, or what we believe to be intrinsically ethical? Should we embrace moral relativism or stick ferociously to a code of behavior based solely on immutable truths? Do I let my family starve or steal a loaf of bread? John “Pace” Seavering, a fledgling publisher at the beginning of the twentieth century must choose between publishing the unwieldy, gargantuan first book of his close college friend, Denis McCleary, or his paramour, black Jazz chanteuse, Jessie Brewster. Both insist they must be next in line or face imminent demise, of one sort or another. Pace is torn between this devotion to his best friend and his lover.
Into this mix is delivered a machine which churns out pages from books (whole manuscripts really) that will be published far into the future. Well, the end of the 20th century, anyway. As the texts begin to accumulate in piles throughout an already chaotic office, Pace’s assistant, Gidger, starts to unwittingly pick up cultural jargon from a time as yet unknown to them. As the second act unfolds, Pace and Gidger they discover posthumous news about their own lives, and the lives of the other characters. This unseen device has become an oracle, polygraph and time machine. Greenberg carefully avoids a Twilight Zone sort of feel to this, though the more I consider, the more I wonder if that’s what he had in mind. For some reason, we never question the credibility of this fanciful contraption, probably because it’s so wedded to content.
I’d be remiss if I suggested that The Violet Hour is “about” any one idea, though the central metaphor, the time when the sun has reached a cusp of its cycle and everything is on the verge of change, fits exquisitely. Greenberg is examining a twilight period for Pace, who understands that what he chooses to publish, can change the lives of those very dear to him, as well as the world at large, irreversibly. At its center The Violet Hour seems to suggest issues like time, responsibility, reputation, fate are fluid and perhaps, wonderfully indecipherable. It’s like The Monkey’s Paw or The Lathe of Heaven, where any attempt to thwart some implacable catastrophe is pointless. The machine continues to print out an endless supply of information, yet the more Pace knows the worse his quandary...(Read more at pegasusnews.com)