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The Violet Ones

In praise of Richard Greenberg, Graham Hamilton, Kristine Zbornik, Miles Phillips, and Kane Alexander. logo
Dagmara Dominczyk and Robert Sean Leonard
in The Violet Hour
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
There seems to be a general consensus among theater critics that Richard Greenberg's The Violet Hour is a wonderful play that has suffered a variety of casting snafus. Except for Robert Sean Leonard, who gives an exceptional performance, most of the other four cast members have been raked over the coals -- fairly or unfairly. It's certainly a critic's job to describe what does and does not work in a show and, give or take a performance or two, we're in agreement with most of our colleagues on this show. But how should theatergoers react to reviewers' remarks that this is a worthy play in a less than terrific production?

The answer has got to be: See the show! So what if the play was better served elsewhere? If it's that good -- and it is -- how important can it be that it might have been better cast in another production? If you don't see The Violet Hour now, when will you see it? Where will you see it? Maybe Second Stage will revive it in 20 years. It could turn up in the West End, but not necessarily in a better production -- and how many of us can take off for London whenever we want to? No; the play is here, the play is now, the play is smart and entertaining. Shakespeare said "The play's the thing," not "the players."

Besides, for all of the casting upheaval that took place before it opened, The Violet Hour is hardly a disaster. Robert Sean Leonard surely will receive a Tony nomination for a carefully calibrated performance that combines patrician arrogance, self-doubt, and a humbling conscience. Leonard plays John Pace Seavering, a start-up publisher in 1919 who must decide which of two books he will publish, knowing -- thanks to the play's science fiction twist -- the eventual human cost of his choice. Scott Foley brings a passionate, mercurial intelligence to the part of a young writer modeled after F. Scott Fitzgerald. On the other hand, Mario Cantone is far too strident and modern as Seavering's assistant. Dagmara Dominczyk plays the eccentric heiress (read Zelda Fitzgerald) who loves Scott Foley's writer with just a tad too little charm. And Robin Miles, in her turn as a proud African-American singer who wants to tell her story, tends to strike poses and has yet to fully develop her character. (She took over the role from Jasmine Guy late in the show's preview period.)

The rest of the production could hardly be improved upon. Christopher Barreca's set, suggestive of the interior of the Flatiron Building, is a marvel of forced perspective. Donald Holder provides a landscape of light that hovers in mood indigo before it peaks in passionate violet. Jane Greenwood's costumes stylishly evoke the era, and Evan Yionoulis's direction is kinetic.

Richard Greenberg's play is cheeky in its remarks about the theater, profound in its contemplation of human frailty, and exhilarating in its imagination. If Three Days of Rain remains this playwright's artistic masterpiece and Take Me Out is his commercial triumph, The Violet Hour has the intellectual dazzle that Greenberg's The Dazzle did not quite achieve. In sum, Greenberg has emerged as one of our most important contemporary playwrights. We don't know about you, but we'd rather see flawed brilliance than exceptionally well-done mediocrity. This is the hour to see The Violet Hour; there may not be another.


Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Audra McDonald, Patti LuPone, et al. -- For a Cause

Certain events, such as lunar eclipses, occur so infrequently that they're worthy of special note. One such event will take place on Monday, November 17: The Stella By Starlight awards ceremony in the Rainbow Room. Here, the worlds of theater, cinema, and finance will come together to benefit the Stella Adler Studio of Acting.

Representing the theater world, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee will receive the Group Theater Award for prolific achievement and community and social commitment. Film director Steven Spielberg will receive the Jacob Adler Award for courageous contributions to American Culture, while John Travolta will take home the Stella Adler Award for consummate artistic achievement and interpretation.

You'll want to know that, following cocktails, dinner, and the presentation of the awards, there will be a specially created "Salute to Musical Theater" with such participants as Lucie Arnaz, Lawrence Luckinbill, Audra MacDonald, and Patti LuPone. You may not want to know that individual tickets are $1,000, with tables priced at $5,000, $10,000, and $25,000. To purchase, contact Scott Perrin at Lorelei Enterprises: 212-838-2660, extension 22.


Graham Hamilton in
The Two Noble Kinsmen
(Photo © Michal Daniel)
An Actor is Discovered

We did not want the closing of the Public Theater's production of Two Noble Kinsman to pass without our noting the presence in its cast of a future star. Graham Hamilton, who played Palamon, arrived upon the scene in much the same way that the screenplay for Good Will Hunting arrives in Matt & Ben -- out of the blue.

According to his bio in the show' Playbill, this riveting actor made his professional debut in Two Noble Kinsman. Young, handsome, and exciting, he's got the goods to have a major career on stage and screen. Much of the credit for his discovery should go to the casting agents for the production, Jordan Thaler/Heidi Griffiths, as well as to the director, Darko Tresnjak, who had the courage to put an untried but extremely talented actor into an important production at the Public.


Miles Phillips
Nightlife Notes

The quality level of shows in cabaret clubs around the city has been unusually high during the last month. Among the most ambitious of them was Kristine Zbornik's darkly comic Blow Up World at Mama Rose, in which intriguing, entertaining monologues that explored issues of destiny and character were intercut with songs that drove home the show's themes. Well written and passionately presented, this was a musical comedy act that bordered on performance art.

Another ambitious show at Mama Rose -- and this one is still running -- comes courtesy of Miles Phillips. Called The Unrest Inside Me, it's an unusual mix of nonchalant attitude and intense, intelligent turns. The absorbing show centers on the trials and tribulations of a performer's life; among its highlights is "Art and Love," written by Phillips himself. The song displays yet another weapon in this entertainer's arsenal of talents, inclusive of charm, wit, and a lovely voice. His show can be seen at Mama Rose on November 11 and November 25 at 7pm.

Kane Alexander recently returned to New York from Australia after an absence of nearly three years to perform two shows at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room. He put on an exceptional show that was full of theatrical flair; it culminated in the most moving version of Craig Carnelia's brilliant song "Flight" that we have ever heard -- and we've heard lots of them. In a carefully crafted program, the individual songs flowed with a natural grace from one to the next; musical director Chris Denny is Alexander's essential collaborator. Over the past three years, Alexander has matured from an exciting young performer to a polished and accomplished singer/actor.

There are a staggering number of cabaret acts that we've yet to report on; we hope to cover many of these in future columns.

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