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Renaissance Theaterworks Time Travels to 1919 for 'The Violet Hour'

courtesy of Renaissance Theaterworks

The end of the first world war in 1918 - the “great war” - heralded a marked shift in western culture. Music, theater, visual art, and literature all changed, both in response to the war’s carnage and as a way of deflecting its horror.

In the United States, the jazz age was about to begin. Women got the vote, and their hair and hemlines shortened. By 1919, there were already more than 7 million cars registered. The country, especially New York City, was vibrating with optimism and hope. And it’s at this particular historical moment Richard Greenberg’s play The Violet Hour is set.

"This is just after World War I, Manhattan was just crazy and it was the one time where everything was really, really hopeful. And we have no idea, of course, that within 12 years the stock market crash was going to happen," says actor Martin Gobel. 

Gobel stars in the Renaissance Theaterworks' production of The Violet Hour. She portrays the singer Jessie Brewster, the only African-American character in the mostly white cast. One of the most exciting things about performing a show from this time period, according to Gobel, are the race relations of the time. 

"What's important to me is that African-Americans and Caucasian people were celebrating the end of this war together. And a lot of the racial issues of the day are kind of set aside for this gaiety that everybody is involved in," she says.

The play is the final offering of the season for Renaissance Theaterworks. Julie Swenson, the company's Producing Director, says the group has been wanting to do The Violet Hour "for years," but it wasn't feasible until recently. 

"It has more people than we have done in the past, there is a pretty big set and a very interesting prop component that we weren't able to do financially for quite a while, and [we're] thrilled to finally be able to do it," says Swenson.

The Violet Hour opens at the Broadway Theatre Center April 7, and runs through the end of the month.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.