Writer-performer Claudia Baumgarten embodies the immortal author Dorothy Parker, bringing the acerbic writer’s best-known barbs to Fringe in an original one-woman biography that’s equal parts scholarly and scandalous. Baumgarten reenacts key milestones in Parker’s biography, from her privileged Manhattan childhood and convent education to her struggle for respect in the Jazz Age’s male-dominated literary scene while writing for women’s magazines ... not to mention her numerous failed romances.
As a theater and book critic, Parker’s negative reviews of household names make me look nicer than Mr. Rogers, and her deathless bon mots about alcohol and sex have lost little of their bite over the century since Prohibition. Even audience members who don’t know Groucho Marx from Karl Marx will appreciate hearing a taste of the withering wordplay that once viciously circled the Algonquin Round Table.
Baumgarten’s sharp script largely relies on Parker’s own words, and director Diana E.H. Shortes provides Baumgarten with enough onstage books and baubles to keep the solo show from becoming a static talking-head lecture or wax museum display.
Baumgarten exudes Parker’s irreverent energy for the first 30 minutes; then the play’s pacing and lighting levels inexplicably dipped at the halfway point, and didn’t fully recover their initial spark until after an interminable waltz sequence. However, hearing Parker’s catty carping about the Golden Age of cinema makes the conclusion well worth sticking around for.
Wit & Wrath: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker
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