To say Dorothy Parker was prolific would be an understatement. The writer’s witty sayings grace nearly every quotation list, book, or website. Ever hear the phrase, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses”? That’s her. Or “What fresh hell is this?” Parker too. She worked at some of the biggest magazines writing theater and book reviews as well as short verses published in Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker. Oh, and her friends included literary giants F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Did we mention that she was a co-founder of the Algonquin Round Table Society, a group of wordsmiths who had lunch weekly at the Algonquin Hotel from 1919 until roughly 1929?
But there was more to Parker than famous friends and a sharp brain, which is what The Portable Dorothy Parker aims to highlight. The one-woman play takes place in a hotel room in 1943 on the eve of Parker’s book The Portable Dorothy Parker being published. She talks to an unseen character, an editorial assistant sent to keep her on task, retelling stories about her life. It’s pretty brave to put on a play about a lady who was known for her harsh critiques in her reviews, coming up with one-liners like, “This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”
“People who know about Mrs. Parker know about the Algonquin Round Table and just assume that her life stopped in 1932,” says Margot Avery, who will be playing Parker in the play. “But people don’t realize that she had a second career as a screenwriter. The Hollywood stuff was fun — so were her politics. They think of her as an acerbic wit, but they don’t know that she was such a civil rights activist.”
The Piccolo show wants audiences to understand more about this latter half of Parker’s life — like how every time the play is performed, a portion is donated to the NAACP as Parker left her estate to Martin Luther King Jr. It’s these moments in her life, her involvement in political movements, the fear of communism, and her life in L.A. that the play wants to highlight.
And it wants to get it right, which is why playwright Annie Lux, director Lee Costello, and Avery herself have been working on it for years. Lux, Costello, and Avery have all worked with Ensemble Studio Theatre both in L.A. and New York City, and Avery has appeared at the FringeNYC fest as well as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This play marks Avery’s return to the Piccolo stage after appearing in I Dream Before I Take a Stand. “It’s been in the final stages of being fixed up and created and put out into the world for the past couple of years,” Avery explains. “We’ve been workshopping it a lot and doing it and looking at it and rewriting the ending and doing that again. And then Annie would rewrite the ending again. It needed a shape, the arc was kind of off toward the end. It got a little too cheerful.”
So just to summarize The Portable Dorothy Parker will have wit, celebrity, modern history, and a dash of sadness — sounds right up our alley.