By KATIE B. O’CONNOR
This past weekend, Studio 115 presented its first play of the season, “The Violet Hour,” which was written by Richard Greenberg and directed by UMW senior Paul Morris. This century-hopping tragicomedy centers on a young publisher who, in 1919, must decide between publishing his best friend’s novel or the memoirs of his mistress. His decision is further complicated by a mysterious machine that periodically spews out pages from history books and biographies written in the future.
The play opens with Gidger (sophomore Kevin S. McDonough), ranting about being over-qualified for his job as an assistant to aspiring publisher John Pace Seavering (senior Brett Meslar). With grand gestures and perfect timing, McDonough animates Gidger with more than just average comedic relief. As Gidger’s identity becomes more and more diluted with knowledge of the future, he injects futuristic lingo into his rants, finally arriving at the hilarious climax of “this is BOGUS!” which had the audience howling.
Pausing so naturally for laughs that he appeared synchronized with the audience, McDonough’s matter-of-fact delivery of lines was absolutely genius.
Jessie Brewster (junior Ashley James) was John’s jazz-singing, smart-talking mistress whose memoirs—which may or may not be false—become the climax of the play. James plays Jessie with the simple elegance of a character that will stop at nothing to be world-famous. Her gift is understatement—her offhand comment to John that she will add up his assets and reconsider their relationship based on what she finds would crush the soul of the most confident man in the world.
Junior Cameron Doucette is delightful in his portrayal of the absurdly foppish Denis McCleary, John’s best friend. Doucette displays great range between Denis’s self-absorbed, flowery descriptions of the finer points of his tome of a novel and his more tender moments with his fiancée Rosamund (played by junior Cassandra Lewis).
Anyone who saw Cassandra Lewis grace the stage last year as Emily in “Our Town” and Catherine in “The Heiress” has an idea of how incredible her performance was in “The Violet Hour.” Lewis is so—for lack of a better word—natural on stage. None of her movement is contrived and she speaks every word as though it is her own.
Whenever Lewis is onstage, it feels as if a “real” person has stumbled into the play and ends up stealing the show. She has such ease that it’s difficult to imagine her preparing for a role, it seems as though she was born to play every part she is cast in.
Though the first scene dragged a bit, Brett Meslar quickly found his rhythm in his portrayal of John Pace Seavering. What I found most interesting about Meslar’s performance is his use of silence in the play. He is so comfortable with pauses, which is a rare trait in college performances. Young actors tend to shy away from pauses for fear that the audience and their cast mates will think they’ve forgotten a line and the play will lose its rhythm. Meslar uses pauses effectively, as they would occur in real life. There is a beautiful moment after the climax of the play where John and Jessie are slumped on the floor after an exhausting screaming match. There are at least two full minutes of silence and it works perfectly.
The lighting, designed by Bethany Farrell, Karen Kelleher and Taylor Williams, creatively depicted the subtle changes of light over the course of a single day. The varied tones of purple and blue during the actual violet hour are remarkable, as are the harsh reds used when Denis narrates a letter from the future.
Overall, “The Violet Hour’s” exceptional performance bodes well for what should be an interesting and exciting season in Studio 115. “Reckless” by Craig Lucas is the studio’s next play, scheduled to run from Oct. 22 to Oct. 25 with six performances.