The Violet Hour Wanes at Broadway's Biltmore Dec. 21

By Kenneth Jones
December 21, 2003

The magic time in Manhattan when the dusky sun seems to lure and hasten people to greater things, dwindles away Dec. 21 when Richard Greenberg's play, The Violet Hour, the title of which references that purple haze, ends its scheduled run on Broadway.



For a few months Greenberg had two plays on Broadway at once — Take Me Out continues to Jan. 4, 2004, and was the talk of the town for snagging the 2003 Best Play Tony Award in spring. The Violet Hour was the talk of the theatre district in fall for being the work that relighted the once-dilapidated and neglected Biltmore Theatre. Manhattan Theatre Club now holds the keys the renovated playhouse, and chose Greenberg's comedy drama of magical realism to be the not-for-profit's Broadway premiere in the Biltmore.

Opening night was Nov. 6. The production, directed by Evan Yionoulis, earned unwanted attention when Jasmine Guy left the staging in previews (indeed, in mid-show) due to medical reasons. She was replaced by understudy Robin Miles. Earlier, in rehearsals, the announced Laura Benanti left and was replaced by Dagmara Dominczyk.

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Fate, literary legacy, fame and fortune all converged on the stage of the newly restored Biltmore Theatre to light The Violet Hour, the Richard Greenberg play that began previews Oct. 16.

It was the first time in 16 years (since 1987) a full production was seen at the Biltmore, on West 47th Street.

MTC is now 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 (The Dazzle) has been seen in recent seasons in regional productions in Costa Mesa, California and Chicago. Evan Yionoulis helmed the world premiere of Greenberg's Everett Beekin for South Coast Rep. The cast includes Tony Award-winner Robert Sean Leonard (The Invention of Love), Scott Foley (of "Felicity," as a college pal who has written a huge novel), Mario Cantone (The Crumple Zone, as the publisher's assistant), Robin Miles (as black chanteuse Jessie Brewster) and Dagmara Dominczyk (of Enchanted April, as a meat-packing heiress in love with Foley's character).

"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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Manhattan Theatre Club has been represented on Broadway before, but usually in commercial transfer situations such as Proof and The Tale of the Allergist's Wife (which began at MTC's Off-Broadway spaces). Once exception was A Small Family Business, which MTC presented directly on Broadway without an Off-Broadway start.

Next up for MTC's Biltmore is Regina Taylor's Drowning Crow, an African-American reimagining of Chekhov's The Seagull.