by John Stoehr
The Footlight Players opened their latest show Friday. Called The Violet Hour, it's about a book publisher who must decide between publishing the book of his best friend or the book of his secret lover. Oh, and then there's the sci-fi element that's thrown in, too. Will Bryan went to the theater Saturday night. He sent us this review. — JS
Acts of Violet
Engaging writing and quirky plot make for entertaining theater
BY WILLIAM BRYAN
Footlight’s roller coaster season continues, this time coming back up to the top of the ride with another engaging performance that has echoes of their very successful season opener, Accomplice.
Like Rupert Holmes shocking mystery, Richard Greenberg’s The Violet Hour is not everything it seems.
Set in 1919, in the disorganized publishing office of our protagonist, John Pace Seavering, the play at first appears to be a simple tale of his quandary: With only enough money to publish one book to make his mark, he must choose between the existential work of his closest friend and the autobiography of his secret lover.
Were those the limits of the plot devices, then, as the play states in its opening moments, “the really big problem with the Broadway Theater ... you always know what’s going to happen.”
Fortunately, Greenberg, while more than happy to bite the hand that feeds him, has never been one to produce such an easy-to-figure-out tale. Director Michael Hamburg’s skillful work, another near-perfect set by Richard Heffner, and accurate period costumes by Cherie May all meld together allowing the talented cast to produce an entertaining night of theater that builds a solid foundation upon which to lay its unexpected twists.
It is not perfect theater, but it does serve to illustrate the type of work Footlight should produce more often. Like Accomplice before it, this play has secrets that will not be revealed here. Yet this is the type of edgy play that can appeal to a wide range of audiences and shows that more than just the tried-and-true-style shows can be successfully staged in our area.
There were two, or perhaps three minor distractions, that served to prevent applying such adjectives as “flawless” to the production. Seavering’s office is set in downtown Manhattan with a large window that looks out into a clear sky. There should be buildings in the distance to see, but the set designer cited technical and spatial difficulties in completing the illusion of location. Also, Todd Ashby, in the role of Seavering, is on stage almost the entire show, and appears a little stiff in his role.
Finally, there is sadly a complete lack of passion between him and his secret lover, a black jazz singer named Jessie Brewster, played well by Yvonne Broaddus. While both Ashby and Broaddus handle their individual roles such that it never appears they are just acting, it’s impossible, given the lack of chemistry between them on stage, to believe they are passionate about one another.
Easily overcome is the lack of chemistry in their relationship by the quality of the cast as a whole.
The star-crossed lovers, budding novelist Denis McCleary and wealthy heiress Rasamund Plinth, played by Ted Rice and Amber Mann, are passionate about one another.
Mann is driven as the manic socialite and leaves little doubt about the state of her sanity as she discusses escaping to her private room at the Plaza "to daydream.” A last minute replacement in the show, she is every inch the rich spoiled girl, yet still manages to be a pitiable creature for which the audience cannot help but feel sympathy.
Rice, in a role that is part F. Scott Fitzgerald and part Thomas Wolfe, is at his best in the second act as he delivers the strongest monologue in the play. As he recites a letter being read by Seavering, Rice is allowed to show all of the regrets and sorrows his life has brought him, but still holds onto the love he once felt for his now-estranged wife.
Hilarious throughout the play is Bill Terranova as Seavering’s assistant, Gidger. His transformation from high strung, underappreciated flunky to melancholy flunky whose dog is destined to achieve more fame than he, Gidger humorously carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and despairs that no one can appreciate the depths of his sacrifice.
What is appreciated is the comic relief Terranova brings to the play without ending up just a farcical slapstick figure.
With only the seat-filling The Full Monty left on the season schedule, it looks like we will have to wait for next season to see Footlight return with more fresh and innovative theater.
While both Accomplice and The Violet Hour might be said to rely on gimmicks to make them work, both are some of the best theater to come out of 20 Queen Street this season and they show the ability that Footlight has to present engaging and entertaining productions.
The Violet Hour
Presented by the Footlight Players
March 13-15, 20-22 8 p.m.
March 16, 3 p.m.
20 Queen St.