This week's Sunday NY Times Arts & Leisure section had a nice profile of Richard Greenberg, the playwright of The Violet Hour, the play I'll be starting rehearsals on in a week. (There was also a largish ad for the play -- it's always nice to see my name in print, I'll admit, since it doesn't happen all that often.)
At first glance, Mr. Greenberg hardly seems the type of playwright to engage a Broadway audience weaned on show tunes and one-liners. His plays don't fit easily into traditional categories of comedy or drama; they are often funny and sad at the same moment. And while the subject matter may range from materialistic yuppies ("Eastern Standard") to pack-rat eccentrics ("The Dazzle"), all of his plays — and characters — share a loquacious intelligence and a taste for touching on big philosophical issues.
"The Violet Hour," which had its world premiere in November 2002 at the South Coast Repertory Theater in Costa Mesa, Calif., is no exception. Set in 1919, the play tells the story of an idealistic young publisher, John Pace Seavering (to be played on Broadway by Robert Sean Leonard), who is forced to choose between publishing a book by his best friend, Denis, an aspiring writer (Scott Foley), or his lover, a soul singer named Jessie Brewster (Jasmine Guy). Into this fairly straightforward scenario, however, Mr. Greenberg introduces a supernatural conceit: a machine that spews pages from history books — written in the future — about all the characters' lives.
"I really don't know where it came from," he said of the plot, in a recent interview in the theater district office of the play's publicist. "It's not like me at all. I don't really respond to fantasy or science fiction. But somehow it just seemed intrinsic to this."
While the specific dramatic device may be different with "The Violet Hour," Mr. Greenberg still is returning to topics that obviously fascinate him: time and destiny, and how free will plays a part — or doesn't — in the story of one's life.
"I'm always trying to construe time," Mr. Greenberg said. "I'm constantly trying to make constructions on it and make the passage of it real to myself. Nowadays, when I see someone who is old and withered and down, I'll think, `How old was he in 1968?' and realize he was much younger than I am now."
It is an obsession that is evident in plays like "Three Days of Rain," a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1998, in which three grown children try to discover the mystery of their parents' personal and professional relationships. (The three actors in the cast play the children in the first act and their parents in the second.) Or in "The Dazzle," in which two eccentric brothers, the real-life Collyers, who died together in a crepuscular Harlem mansion in 1947, slowly waste away their lives as their possessions literally swallow them up.
Both "The Dazzle" — which covers several decades in the early 20th century — and "The Violet Hour" betray another point of fascination for Mr. Greenberg: the past, which he views as a vast, and remarkably flexible, source of settings and material.
"I like the past because it doesn't change as quickly as the present," he said. "You start with an imaginative leap when you're working in the past — you're not relying on verisimilitude, you're not relying on echoes of what you've heard that day on the street and you're not responsible to whatever is the common wisdom of the day. There's an expansiveness to the language there that I find very comfortable."
The first impetus for "The Violet Hour," in 2000, had derived from an idea to write a part for Lynne Thigpen, the accomplished black actress whom Mr. Greenberg knew only casually. (Ms. Thigpen died in March.) Her character, Jessie, the singer, was soon joined by a pair of wounded men: John, the rich boy with a wide streak of guilt, and Denny, the poor boy with a taste for pretentious, slightly unhinged women.
Soon he had visualized all five characters — including Rosamund (portrayed by Laura Benanti), Denny's love interest, and a peculiar assistant named Gidger (Mario Cantone) — and a not quite complete story. What followed was months of thinking about the play, periodically jotting down snippets of dialogue and scenes and putting them in a pile on his desk (he always writes on a typewriter), notes that would later act as structural supports for the rest of the show.
So it was that when Mr. Patch from the South Coast Rep called, Mr. Greenberg said, he just typed it out, though he added that the speed at which he writes is in large part an illusion.
"I always pretend to write really quickly because I don't actually start writing until the play is practically finished," he explained. "I had been walking around with this idea for at least a year by the time I decided to write it. So it's almost secretarial when I sit down to write."
"The Violet Hour" marks his seventh production with the Manhattan Theater Club, but the first to open on Broadway without a previous Off Broadway run. (The club's two other theaters, at City Center, are both Off Broadway-size.)
In the Biltmore, however, "The Violet Hour" may have found an ideal home; the theater was built in 1925, just after the time in which the play is set, an era in which new plays on Broadway were as common as the sunrise. Much of the theater's interior has been preserved or restored as part of the building's $35 million renovation, including its domed ceilings.
And its intent, said [MTC Artistic Director Lynne] Meadow, will be to recreate a taste of that period. "This will be a home for new work," she said.
For a writer so entranced by the detail of history, both personal and societal, that would seem to be a perfect fit.
"I'm not really interested in this idea, this homogenization that people pursue to show that the past is in fact just a version of the present," Mr. Greenberg said. "I'm interested in how the past isn't anything like the present. For me, that's the exciting part."
And Bruce Weber, one of the Times' theatre critics, also referred to it as
"A highlight of the fall season, or so it is to be hoped."
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.