Hip Shot: ‘Dorothy Parker’s Last Call’

Dorothy Parker's Last Call

Busboys and Poets, 5th & K Streets NW

Remaining Performances:

Friday, July 9, at noon and 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 10, at 10 p.m.
Sunday, July 11, at 6 p.m.

They Say: Poet, critic, author, activist and member of the infamous Algonquin Round Table, Dorothy Parker delighted in skewering the culture of early Twentieth Century. This original one-woman show is a dynamic exploration of the life of America's first lady of wit.

The Real Mrs. Parker, delighted as always to see you.

The Real Mrs. Parker, delighted as always to see you.

Trey's Take: Dutiful, sure, and clearly affectionate; dynamic, I don't know about. The lady's "last call" — not a bad title, that, given that it's about a famous drinker with a serious writing problem — is framed as a kind of press conference from beyond the grave, with brief barroom digressions, and I guess that makes as much sense as any other approach. In something less than the advertised 70 minutes, a solo performer (who'll go nameless, as there's no playbill) deploys dozens of Parker's best-known quips, along with passages from her light verse, as she sketches out the highs and lows of a life famous as much for the latter — two husbands and three suicide attempts — as for the former. Not that the highs were chopped liver. Gigs at Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, a bit of playwriting, a Hollywood screenwriting stint, and of course that famous seat among the Vicious Circle: nothing to sneer at there, unless of course you're the perpetually self-scorning Parker, who notes bleakly in the show's most touching moment that she's no Hemingway, no Fitzgerald. "They were the giants," says a woman who roared her way through the Twenties and who ran with them both. And you want to say, "Sure, but you wrote tighter, and got more out of almost every word."

See It If: The mordant witticism is mother's milk to you — or you simply need a fond introduction to the lady who observed that "Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words."

Skip It If: You've seen Jennifer Jason Leigh's version — "Me ow, too," she improvised when a cat wandered into a scene — and liked it.

  • MJK

    I have to agree with Trey on this one. While a charming performer (with whom I also had a nice conversation with that evening) there was a dynamism missing in the performance, as well as deeper exploration of the woman rather than just regurgitating her words. Parker's writing is fantastically witty and sharp; great material from which to build a solo play. And the performance space did work well with the bar noise bleeding in. Still, a bit more umpf and savagery in the delivery or perhaps having Parker wander thru the room and interact with us may have made what is fairly diverting far more engaging and hilarious.

  • Michael B.

    I found "Dorothy Parker's Last Call" to be enjoyable and completely engaging. The writer/performer, Lesley Abrams- yes, there was no program, but all you had to do was ask- delivers a terrific portrayal of the woman who broke the all-male club of the Algonquin Roundtable- acerbic, witty, provocative, and very sad. Have we heard this sort of story before? Absolutely. It's what so much of the 20s and 30s was about, especially for women in theatre and Hollywood. But what escalates this above many other attempts to mine the theatricality of this subject is Lesley Abrams' performance. Anyone who knows anything about Dorothy Parker knows that her life was fueled by booze and disappointment. Ms. Abrams shows how Parker struggled with both while trying to make a difference in the world, and most importantly in a "man's world". Abrams' triumph doesn't come from the portrayal of the tough broad exterior with the "I just want to be loved" woman underneath. We've see this too many times. For me, the beauty in the performance was the subtle, hourlong slip from sobriety into drunkenness, an acting feat that takes skill and nuance. We get a better sense of Parker's persona, her personal demons and challenges, as Ms. Abrams empties a "bottle of scotch". As someone who has seen his share of bad stage drunks, this was nuanced and very real. I would highly recommend this show to anyone who wants to see a fine solo performance, who likes to get a snapshot of an emotional rollercoaster, or who has an interest in Parker, Prohibition, the early days of the civil rights movement, or straight-up good acting. (The noise of Friday night's Busboys and Poets' dining room only enhanced the atmosphere, as Parker spent much of her time, and much of the play is set, in just such public places.)