To quote The Portable Dorothy Parker, “She wasn’t that bad … she wasn’t that good.” Whether that is a direct quote from the Piccolo Spoleto play or the book, well, that’s something we’re not sure of, but that’s how we’d describe the show. What we do know is that it was a play full of quotes — and not much else.
Margot Avery took on the role of the titular witty lady, and her acting was solid. We know it’s no easy task to be in a one-person play, and this time it was the play that faltered not the acting. She engaged the audience and worked in subtle nuances to her performance that conveyed an understanding of the sadness that had crept into Parker’s later life.
Taking place entirely in a hotel room in New York City, Dorothy Parker meets with an unseen editorial assistant while preparing what to include in her book, The Portable Dorothy Parker. To move the play forward, Parker reads one of her poems or wisecracks and then tells some story about one of her famous friends. A formula that didn’t take the story anywhere and instead just let the audience know she was a celebrity. Which is ironic since she was attributed to saying, “He drops so many names, I’m surprised he hasn’t broken a toe.” The audience heard all about her famous friends, from Scotty — that’s F. Scott Fitzgerald — and Zelda to Henry Luce and his wife Clare Booth Luce and to her relationship with Ernest Hemingway, which was the most interesting part of the play. Sadly, it came three-quarters in and was too little too late.
During the play, Parker alluded to her relationship with “Ernest” and how she didn’t want to talk about him. Perhaps the playwright Annie Lux was hoping for some foreshadowing, although it was forced and not subtle. But the audience finally got to hear the story about the fraught relationship between Parker and Hemingway, and it was heartbreaking. The respect and admiration — even adoration — that Parker felt for Hemingway was palpable, and when we found out what happened during the “Golden Summer” that they, along with a group of other literary giants, spent in Paris together, our heart sunk. This is where the story is. It’s about her relationships with these people, but sadly, The Portable Dorothy Parker focused more on quips and name-dropping than revealing the humanity behind Parker.
The over-50 audience seemed to enjoy the play, laughing at many of Parker’s famous sayings. And don’t get us wrong, she was a funny lady, but it just seemed too forced and lacked depth to really resonate.
The staging of the play was effective, and the set simple yet realistic, with a desk, a couple of chairs, and two side tables — one for her booze and one for the telephone. Within the 90-minute production, the only movement was Parker walking in the room, mainly to refill her whisky, or to find particular poems. Director Lee Costello made it seem as natural as possible, and it never was distracting from the words, which is not an easy feat.
But as they say, actions speak louder than words, and the plot needed a little less talk and a lot more action.