What the future will make of our little period lives is the dramatic tease in Richard Greenberg’s new tragic-comedy from Broadway, now showing at the Ensemble Theatre.
Greenberg is the author of Take Me Out, the hit gay baseball comedy, and a witty gay sensibility is also prevalent in his most recent play The Violet Hour.
The Great War has finished and fledgling publisher John Seavering in his Manhattan office in 1919 is trying to decide what manuscript to publish.
Does he go with the memoir of his lover, the black singer Jessie Brewster, or the rambling novel of his best friend Denis, entitled The Violet Hour?
This is that dusky hour in New York, we are told, when the evening yields up the promises of the day.
The drunken perspective of the office set and the exaggerated surrealism of the performances promise that this is to be no predictable period piece.
Indeed the tiresome predictability of the current Broadway theatre, circa 1919, is given a good lampooning.
The excessive ranting of Seavering’s implausibly edgy assistant, as played by Nicholas Papademetriou, warns us though that this little farce is in danger of being just stupid.
The first act begins to wander as director Kate Gaul at first struggles to keep all these heightened characters on the same pitch of absurdist truth.
Denis is desperate to have his novel published so that he can prove his financial future to the tycoon father of his sweetheart Rosamund.
The couple are an echo of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Genevieve O’Reilly plays the unstable Rosamund with a beautifully fey theatricality.
Less convincing is Genevieve Davis as Jessie, the ageing seductress with a dark past and a resemblance to Josephine Baker.
Mark Priestley’s performance is perfectly pitched as the procrastinating publisher who holds all their futures in his hand.
All comes together though with the arrival of a mysterious machine which spits out pages from the future.
Seavering discovers the future of all of them as footnotes in 20th century history as the machine reveals some of the horrors to come -“ things like television, rap and queer theory.
(He is aghast that soon there is to be no non-homosexual word for gay, for being defiantly frivolous in the face of hardship.)
But who does he publish and does he try to counter their fates?
The machine launches Gaul’s production into a satisfying sci-fi absurdity where all the actors eventually find their truth, built on Greenberg’s thoughtful, tender and witty script.
The Violet Hour is at the Ensemble Theatre
until 7 May.