Quotations beautiful from minds profound
Those Whistling Lads!
The Poetry and Short Stories of Dorothy Parker
Written by Maureen Van Trease
Adapted from works by Dorothy Parker, with permission of the NAACP
Directed by Bricken Sparacino
Midtown International Theatre Festival (www.midtownfestival.org)
Equity Showcase (through
Review by Michael D. Jackson
Maureen Van Trease has written and stars in a kind of biographical play that utilizes the works of Dorothy Parker to tell the Algonquin Round Table alumnus’ story during the 1920s. With a focus on Parker’s relationships, Van Trease dramatizes five light romantic stories and a sprinkling of poems and witty one-liners, with the help of an ensemble of six actors to play a variety of roles.
Van Trease plays (and is a dead ringer for) Parker herself, as narrator and protagonist. Parker as a character, however, does not have a great deal to do, though she is a constant presence. She is mainly relegated to the job of master of ceremonies, only participating in scenes occasionally. The meaty scenes are acted by the ensemble in the adaptations of “Here We Are”, “The Sexes”, “You Were Perfectly Fine”, “A Telephone Call”, and “Dusk Before Fireworks.”
Although each scene has charm, they mostly go on too long. None of them are substantial enough to really sustain and they seem overwritten. In every single sequence, the gimmick of the scene is established pretty quickly and then the idea is run into the ground before a blackout brings it to an end. All of the scenes are a good idea and have funny bits to savor, but a careful editing might have kept these sketches clean and snappy. In “Here We Are,” a newlywed couple (Ethan Angelica and Hannah Wolfe) battle through wedding night nerves as they travel to their honeymoon hotel by train. The wife is overly sensitive and finds offense at every other thing the husband says. The poor guy doesn’t mean to insult his new wife, but he can say nothing right. This routine is funny three times and then it becomes tiresome.
The same is true for “Dusk Before Fireworks,” when Kit (Natalie Wilder) and Hobie (Glenn B. Stoops) are interrupted by Hobie’s phone ringing. Kit can only imagine it is another woman competing for Hobie’s affections and proceeds to make a mountain out of a molehill. After Hobie calms Kit down and gets her back into a romantic mood, the phone rings again and it’s fireworks once more. This routine is played out one too many times and disintegrates. That said, there are many fun moments, a lot of enthusiastic energy from the cast, and the over all length of the piece is just right for a collection of vignettes. Justin Herfel and Annalyse McCoy round out the formidable cast.
Bricken Sparacino has found clever ways of staging the material with only basic props and furniture. She has guided the cast to a sort of ballooned delivery of the material, giving it a comic attitude, but the material might have played better if more emphasis was given to finding a naturalistic reading of Parker’s heightened words. There is a sense that the actors are working awfully hard to ensure the laughs. Helen Muller’s costumes are well thought out, keeping the ensemble women in related pastels suggesting the period. The men are less stylized in their attire, but wear enough of the right things to maintain a unified look to the overall design. Sound is handled thoughtfully by Michael Lanning, with period music and vintage phone ring tones. Lighting by Diana Kesselschmidt does the job adequately under limited conditions.
Van Trease has a terrific start on what could become a very interesting and entertaining view of Dorothy Parker’s material. If the material could be judicially edited and weave more into the biography, rather than treated like variety show sketches, the show could blossom into something quite special. Another approach might be to drop the biographical character narrative altogether and find a new harness for the vignettes. Whatever the answer may be, here’s hoping that Van Trease and company keep working and growing with this material.
Copyright 2008 by Michael D. Jackson
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