Biltmore Gets First Opening Night in 16 Years With The Violet Hour, Nov. 6
By Kenneth Jones
Fate, literary legacy, fame and fortune all converge on the stage of the newly restored Biltmore Theatre to light The Violet Hour, the Richard Greenberg play that opens Nov. 6.
The title refers to the magical time in Manhattan when dusk is settling in and the streets seem to glow violet, hastening people toward wonderful things — such as theatregoing, for example.
The New York premiere of Greenberg's regionally-seen play, a comic-dramatic rumination on friendship, fate and the future, began performances in a Manhattan Theatre Club production at Broadway's Biltmore Theatre Oct. 16, representing the first time since 1987 that the theatre on West 47th Street has been alive with actors.
Manhattan Theatre Club renovated and now calls the Biltmore its Broadway home, making MTC a three-venue not-for-profit organization: It presents on two stages in City Center Off-Broadway and now on Broadway, at the 1925 playhouse that was once home to Barefoot in the Park, The Heiress and Hair. Seating is an intimate 650, down from the original 988.
The new play by Greenberg (Take Me Out, The Dazzle) has been seen in recent seasons in regional productions in Costa Mesa, California and Chicago. Evan Yionoulis (who helmed the world premiere of Greenberg's Everett Beekin for South Coast Rep) directs the New York premiere. The cast includes Tony Award-winner Robert Sean Leonard (The Invention of Love), Scott Foley ("Felicity"), Mario Cantone (The Crumple Zone), Robin Miles (who replaced Jasmine Guy in the role of black chanteuse Jessie Brewster) and Dagmara Dominczyk (of Enchanted April, who replaced Laura Benanti in rehearsals).
"John Pace Seavering (played by Robert Sean Leonard) is a driven young publisher at the start of his career in 1919," according to MTC production notes. "Faced with limited finances, Seavering must choose between publishing the memoirs of his lover, the singer Jessie Brewster (Robin Miles) or an unwieldy novel by his friend, Dennis McCleary (Scott Foley), whose marriage to heiress Rosamund Plinth (Dagmara Dominczyk) depends on the success of his book. Meanwhile, Seavering's high-strung assistant Gidger (Mario Cantone) attempts to find Seavering's missing theatre tickets while contending with a strange machine, which has mysteriously appeared at their office door."
That "strange machine" magically spits out reams of paper that provide published biographical information from the future, telling of the characters' personal and professional fates.
Viewed next to Greenberg's Eastern Standard, Night and Her Stars, Everett Beekin, The Dazzle and Take Me Out, the play is the most fanciful and unreal — in terms of the science fiction element — major work yet from the playwright.
The play's world premiere was in fall 2002 at South Coast Rep, which commissioned the script (Cantone appeared in that run). The Violet Hour has also been seen in a separate staging by Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago.
Greenberg won the Tony Award for Best Play for Broadway's current Take Me Out.
Violet Hour's designers are Jane Greenwood (costume), Christopher Barreca (set), Donald Holder (lighting) and Scott Myers (sound). Special effects design is by Gregory Meeh.
Standbys for the cast are Eisa Davis, Robert L. Devaney and Heather Mazur.
The MTC Biltmore Theatre is at 261 W. 47th Street. For ticket information, call (212) 239-6200. For more information, visit www.manhattantheatreclub.org.
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