"What a sport, what a dancer, what a girl!"
Mary Whipple | New England | 07/04/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Dorothy Parker's 1929 short story, transformed into a stage play under the direction of Kirk Browning in 1980, loses much of its impact in the transformation. Though the script, written by Ellen M. Violett, stays close to the action of the story, the sense of time and place--the Roaring Twenties in New York--is lost in this production. Parker wrote this story with mordant humor and malicious wit, presenting a free-spirited model who married, suddenly discovered that she loved being a housewife, lost her husband when she lost her excitement, and descended into alcohol, drugs, and eventually a suicide attempt (paralleling, in some ways, her own life). Parker's sense of irony and her implied criticism of women who allow themselves to be victims create a bleak short story, to some extent a morality tale, but Parker never stoops to sentimentality.
This production plays the story straight, sacrificing Parker's dark detachment in favor of an appeal to the emotions. The wittiness and cynicism of Parker's prose vanish as Hazel, played by Sally Kellerman, shows her excitement at being a wife and then begins her downward spiral. John Lithgow, as Herbie, the man to whom she is willing to dedicate her life, loves nights out and parties, and is unable to be faithful. Their arguments, which become physically abusive, are dramatic, appealing directly to the emotions of the viewer. The wit and world-weariness of Parker's real-life milieu becomes melodramatic in this stage production.
Kellerman does the best job she can with the role--both beautiful and vulnerable--and the reader feels enormous sympathy, at first. The potential of the opening scenes, in which one of Hazel's beaux tells her that he is getting married to one of her model friends, soon dissipates, however. Hazel's acceptance of her victimization by Herbie palls, and her descent into drink and drugs feels self-indulgent. Lithgow's role requires him to be shallow--a party-guy whose need for action makes him an unlikely husband--not a role which requires any great subtlety. The ending, instead of being poignant, feels maudlin.
Though the costumes and sets beautifully convey what the people, apartments, clubs, and bars of the period looked like, the overall mood of the play lacks the cynicism and the detachment found in Parker's most famous story. The viewer feels sorry for Hazel here. In the short story, one feels that Parker recorded the action, observed the results, and then, symbolically, went back to dancing. Mary Whipple