The Portable Dorothy Parker

I have wanted to meet Mrs. Parker since the very first time I was introduced to her work. A friend of mine was reading the Portable Dorothy Parker for a book club and said she thought I might enjoy it. As evidence she had me read Resumé.


Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.


I was hooked.

Such wit, sarcasm, cynicism were, as I learned, the winning trifecta sought by every member of the Round Table, a group of young writers who famously used to met daily for lunch in the Algonquin Hotel Dining Room. However, with her dead pan delivery and tiny stature, Mrs. Parker perfected the art of verbal evisceration with a legendary stream of singled lined comments and quips. In fact, it is more for these cutting remarks and quotations that she is remembered than for her written works. Yet, within Mrs. Parker’s versus and prose (as I would later learn), there was also a sincere honesty, and at times, even vulnerability that was as entertaining as it was occasionally gut wrenching. Largely autobiographical, or inspired by the events of friends and enemies alike, Mrs. Parker’s short stories and poems are amongst the most poignant I have ever read.

A stack of Mrs. Parker’s collected works, on stage at The Portable Dorothy Parker.

As I have grown older, and read more about her life, and its often self-destructive nature, I have come to understand that perhaps meeting Mrs. Parker in person (had she not died before I was even born) may not have been quite the glamorously wit filled experience my 23 year old self so innocently believed. In point of fact, it would more than likely have been uncomfortable and embarrassing spectacle of an insanely talented woman slowly drink herself to death while badmouthing everyone she had ever known, cared about, or worked with. In spite of this, whenever I read one of her quotes, re-read one of her stories, or hear an account of one of those legendary lunches, I cannot help but wonder what it might have been like to actually meet and speak to her.

So, when I discovered that someone had actually written a play addressing just such a fantasy, and that it was coming to Kenyon Hall, a venue not too far from my home, I was absolutely ecstatic. I bought tickets, got a babysitter, and headed via ferry on a warm sunny afternoon in late April to West Seattle, and went to see what was arguably one of the best plays I have seen in years, while actually getting to (almost) fulfill one of my life long dreams.

The Portable Dorothy Parker is a superb one-woman play, written by Annie Lux, performed by Margot Avery, and directed by Lee Costello.

The stage set from The Portable Dorothy Parker.

Set in a NYC residential hotel in 1943, while her husband Allan Campbell is deployed oversees, Mrs. Parker holds court with a minion from her publisher’s office who has been set the difficult and often daunting task of helping Mrs. Parker select which of her works are to be included in the Viking Press “The Portable Dorothy Parker,” and maybe even make her deadline as well (Dottie was especially adept at missing deadlines and getting them extended). Over the course of the show, and between 5 and 6 healthy double scotches, Mrs. Parker reminisces about days and gone by, shares several of her poems, and reveals more than a she intends to about herself.

Lux, the writer, managed to squeeze in just about every one of Mrs. Parker’s most famous one-line zingers, and did so seamlessly. It was as if every one of them had occurred off the cuff and during this conversation. Likewise, Lux also managed to incorporate a fair amount of not often mentioned information about Mrs. Parker during the course of the play. Rather than focusing on the Parker being a member of the Algonquin Round Table, she simply has Dottie mention it, and then lament what a  tragedy it would be to be remembered solely for having lunch.

But where this play really shines is in its fly on the wall style. Just as in Parker’s stories, Lux lets the character talk and act, and avoid, as she needs to. Never once is the audience told what she is thinking, only what she chooses to say, and tries to conceal.  Just as in Parker’s work, careful selection of what to include, and what to leave unsaid, allows the audience to really get a feel for who Mrs. Parker was, and maybe even whom she thought she could have, or perhaps even should have, been.

Either way, the play was insightful, well paced, thoroughly researched, and extremely entertaining. Whether one is a long time Dorothy Parker fan who is familiar with her works and famous quips, or who has never once read a word of her prose let alone heard of her at all, The Portable Mrs. Parker will be an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours with one of the notoriously sharped tongued women in history. If you get the chance to see this play, go you wont be disappointed.

…and even if you don’t get the chance, make the effort to read The Portable Mrs. Parker, I guarantee you will enjoy her work far more than any biography you will ever pick up about her.

Seeing as how this was the closest I was ever going to get to meeting my literary idol, I had Avery sign my personal copy of The Portable Mrs. Parker, she captured Mrs. Parker that perfectly.

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