Celebrating the life of Dorothy Parker is not a tall order for this ingenious literary biography.
BY ELLEN WERNECKE
The ghost of Dorothy Parker, the lady wit of the Algonquin Round Table, still stalks the streets of New York, preying on the melodramatic young who drink too much and want to make something of themselves. Those Whistling Lads may come ultimately to praise and showcase Parker, not to bury her, but it can keep that heroine worship somewhat in check, and that's a good thing. (Not every drinker turns out a Dorothy.)
Maureen Van Trease as Parker walks the audience through a short course on the sharp-tongued flapper, narrating her life with assistance from a selection of her poems and short stories. Van Trease hovers in the background as the ensemble plays her friends and lovers, reciting poetry and acting out her less well-known short stories, not just her famous quips. A description by Van Trease of Dorothy's unhappy marriage is paired with "Here We Are," a scene of two giddy newlyweds (played by Ethan Angelica and Hannah Wolfe) whose honeymoon is undone in two hours by sex and bitterness. As Mrs. Parker slides into alcoholism and love affairs, on stage it's played out as "You Were Perfectly Fine," in which a drunk (Justin Herfel) is retold--painfully--the events of the night before, or else the inventions of his female companion (Annalyse McCoy). In this convention Those Whistling Lads, also adapted by Van Trease, puts the work on display as biographical evidence, instead of dwelling on life and leaving out art.
Parker's heroines are tortured, but their situations are common enough to outlast the era in which they were born. (In"A Telephone Call," a chorus of women from 1928, 1945 and 1964--played by Wolfe, McCoy, and Natalie Wilder--all wait for the phone to ring in a symphony of emotional cruelty.) There are no happy endings for these dames (nor was there for Parker), but director Bricken Sparacino keeps the tone relatively light and lets hero worship play through. The tragedy of Parker's life is that her aim was so true, but as she reminds us in Those Whistling Lads, "I never did take my own advice." "Dottie" will continue to inspire, despite everything.
Those Whistling Lads
Part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival
Through August 1 at the Workshop Theatre, 312 W. 36th St., 4th floor
Tickets, $18, ticketcentral.com
For more information about MITF, visit Midtownfestival.org
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.