The year is 1943 and famed wit Dorothy Parker sits in her New York apartment, sifting through her works and deciding which will make it into the new anthology ‘The Portable Dorothy Parker’. She chats to the young assistant who has been sent to help her, allowing the audience an insight into her life and, most exquisitely, the vivid cast of literary giants who have permeated her life.
You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think
With associates such as Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Kaufman, Bankhead, Loos (et - and then some - al) Parker’s address book reads like a Who’s Who of twentieth century American literati. And it is this name-dropping that we are, of course, here for. For to spend an hour with Parker is to conjure the lifeblood of New York in the 1920s; that brittle, vicious, glamorous facade behind which so much emotional fragility lay shivering.
Parker herself - so epigrammatically precise - had a mess of a personal life. Married young, divorced, married #2, divorced, remarried to #2, poet, writer, critic, satirist, convenor of the infamously acerbic Algonquin Round Table, probable alcoholic, serial suicide threatener, Academy Award nominee, HUAC victim, social justice warrior… she was nothing if not colourful.
Parker found a sense of control in her writing which was lacking off the page; claiming that for every five words she wrote, she discarded seven. Her quips have seeped down the years; classics such as ‘men never make passes at girls who wear glasses’ or ‘you can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think’ earning her new fans and feminist detractors in equal measure. Her gift lay in an exhaustive crafting of what appeared to be off-the-cuff remarks: but as with so many writers of the age, nothing was ever quite what it seemed.
Margot Avery brings Parker to life with sensitivity and a weary understanding, resisting the temptation to overplay the acid barbs and allowing the audience to engage with the softer, more contemplative side of a woman perhaps slightly frustrated that she has been reduced to pithy one-liners.
Annie Lux’s script combs Parker’s life, her romantic entanglements, her professional frustrations and achievements with a deftness of touch which encourages a three-dimensional assessment of the woman rather than the legend. This may be disappointing to those expecting a caricatured zap through Parker’s greatest hits, but offers a more thoughtful treatment of a rich life which deserves this sort of sensitive and three-dimensional prism.