- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

Red-hot performances lend heat and light to “The Violet Hour,” Richard Greenberg’s play about the heyday of the Lost Generation and the dawning of the Jazz Age directed with depth and a sure sense of flapper-era vim by Kasi Campbell.

It is 1919 in New York, and patrician publisher John Pace Seavering (Ian Lockhart) believes that the worst has already happened in the century, having survived both World War I and the flu pandemic of 1918. He stands poised on the edge of something new, although he doesn’t quite know what that is yet. The future rests in his hands: Should his first publishing venture be the sprawling novel written by his best friend, the F. Scott Fitzgerald-esque Denny McCleary (Timothy Andres Pabon)? Or should he publish the memoirs of his clandestine lover, Jessie Brewster (Deidra LaWan Starnes), a nightclub singer who bears a striking resemblance to Josephine Baker?

Further flummoxing matters are the intrusions from John’s loquacious and fabulously affected assistant, Gidger (Bruce R. Nelson), and Denny’s rich and flighty fiancee, Rosamund Plinth (Megan Anderson), who could give Zelda Fitzgerald fierce competition in the barmy department. There’s also the delivery of a mysterious machine that spews reams of paper, pages of books from the future that give John teasing and maddening glimpses of how things turn out.

“The Violet Hour” (the title comes from a passage in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland”) is a play giddy with language that fluctuates between high-toned and heady purple prose and deliberately placed modern anachronisms. The machine makes Gidger suddenly spout words like “bogus,” “co-opted” and “television” — words that sit sourly on his erudite tongue. To see this fussy, precise man suddenly erupt into “you are buggin’ my trip, bro” and other contemporary slang is a full-blown comedy in itself.

The first act of Mr. Greenberg’s delicately whimsical play can be something of a gas bag, with characters pontificating forth until you lose track in the feverish spirals of their monologues. The second act, however, redeems any shortcomings, gathering gravity and poignancy as John reads the pages and tries to alter the future. A particularly riveting scene has John sitting in the shadows of his messy office, reading a rambling letter from Denny from the 1930s.

Mr. Pabon, so exuberant and impetuous in the first act, hauntingly expresses the anguish of a washed-up writer grappling with booze and a violently disturbed wife. In the end, even language is lost to him, and the tragedy of this collapse pierces your heart.

The rest of the cast matches Mr. Pabon’s assured turn in “The Violet Hour.” As Gidger, Mr. Nelson takes unhinged to brilliant, vertiginous heights, and the abundant laughs he incites adds chuckling warmth to this rueful play. Miss Anderson brings the right balance of madcap and melancholy to the role of Rosamund, conveying what an irresistible life force someone like Zelda Fitzgerald must have been. Mr. Lockhart is also quite strong as John, bearing the burden of vision with affecting nobility.

“The Violet Hour” poses a tantalizing question: If you knew what was going to happen, what would you do? Change the outcome? Or savor the present, that gorgeous time when you are ripe with possibilities and expectations, where everything seems possible and within your grasp.

***

WHAT: “The Violet Hour” by Richard Greenberg

WHERE: Rep Stage, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Nov. 20.

TICKETS: $17 to $24

PHONE: 410/772-4900

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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