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"what Fresh Hell Is This?"

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"What the Fresh Hell is This?"

A Parker Potpourri

by Lyn Coffin

I can 't stand suspense, can you? Life is altogether too full of suspense as it is. Will the car start? Will this check bounce? But a drama review is necessarily a Lady and the Tiger thing, as far as I can tell . Did the Damsel of Delight step forth, shining? Or did the Beast of Boredom swallow you up?

I arrived at "What Fresh Hell is This: An Evening with Dorothy Parker" as the last piece before intermission was beginning, (perhaps in the same spirit as Oscar Wilde forgot the Atlantic, I had forgotten the Art Fair). I slid into my seat just in time to hear The Young Man say to his wife of two hours, "Well, here we are." Arwulf Arwulf did a first-rate job of presenting a man whose character is compounded of two parts Norwegian Wood, two parts adolescent smarminess, and one part little boy ruefulness. Annemarie Stoll matched him line for line and gesture for gesture - the way she played with those two little limp white gloves in her lap was a marvel - so that the sexual subtext of this piece was brought into sharply comic relief.

After intermission, the theatregoer fared a little less well. Act II began with "Letter from a Goddamn Alp," which fell between the stools of revealing and amusing, I'm afraid. But what was listed as "Poems" happily evolved into a rendition of 'Too Bad" which contained my favorite moments of the evening. Sasha Moscovit played the character of Delia (entirely an off-stage convenience in the original story) to the intimidating-domestic hilt. She turned the single word "Dinner!" into a veritable Annunciation, and set dishes before The Weldons with an "oomph" which spoke volumes as to the Real Trouble in River City. Darrell Stokes, as Mrs. Weldon's on-stage animus/narrator did a nice job whipping himself up into the tearful hysteria which comes when "people refuse to mingle" and "you...say things like 'daffy-down-dilly.'" Carol Ilku was less successful as his female counterpart, but she, perhaps, had less to work with.

It is wonderful to hear so many of Mrs. Parker's infamous one-liners brought back and given voice, sometímes two at a crack: "The Swiss are a neat and an industrious people, none of whom is under 75-years of age. They make cheeses, milk chocolate, and watches, all of which...are pretty fairly unnecessary." And there were moments during the evening when Parker lines which had previously failed to impress were slid at us like telegrams under the door, in a way guaranteed to both sting and amuse. In "I Live on Your Visits," for example, Ms. Moscovit hit every divorced or separated person's hot spot (those of us who still have them) with her delivery of, "I'm afraid that your father is not aging with dignity."

The program notes speak of the company's desire to "select as wide a sample of Parker 's work as possible, while keeping an eye on each piece's adaptability to the stage." For those unfamiliar with Dorothy Parker, this evening might serve as a kind of Reader' s Digest introduction to her works, though it is perfectly true, as Brendan GilI has said, that those "coming to Mrs. Parker for the first time may find it as hard to understand the high place she held in the literary world. . . as to understand the critical disregard in to which she subsequently fell" (The Portable Dorothy Parker).

James Moran and Annemarie Stoll have chosen and adapted pieces whose theatricality runs from a recitation of "One Perfect Rose" done rose-in-hand or "A Pig's Eye View of Literature" performed in unconvincing Pythonesque fashion, to the more substantial "Here We Are," which was never really a short story to begin with. (The exception is one line which amounts to a stage direction - "The young man studied his wristwatch as if he were just acquiring the knack of reading time" - the "fiction" of the piece is limited to page one; the rest is he said/she said dialogue.) One wishes for a greater sense of over-arching structure to the evening; at the same time, one realizes that the adapters have done creditably on stage by a woman who could herself never quite bring things off, theatrically speaking.

In the absence of Spanish influenza, cited by Mrs. Parker as helping so many to achieve graceful getaways, allow one personal anecdote. When my daughter was five, she asked her college-age brother what he was holding. "Well," he said carefully , "It's a mixture of leaves and berries from certain plants, chosen because they have an especially nice fragrance." "Oh," she said, "So it's a potpourri."

"What Fresh Hell is This?" is a Parker potpourri - a pleasantly evocative and amusing evening. If the Lady who steps forth is a bit dusty and her silk a trifle threadbare, at least the the Beast of Boredom has been kept successfully at bay.

Dorothy Parker:

Epitaph for a Fairly Daring Lady

The Lady of the Town's Round Table,

Ran her gamut - glib to bold;

And, sentimentally unstable,

Let us down by dying old.

White nurse after white hearse day,

Laughter dazzled all the gutters.

She frazzled well-versed love away,

Cursed In no uncertain mutters.

Leave for her no glistening rose.

Save your money and your plty;

She's been listening, and she knows

What remains of her Is wlity.

- by Lyn Coffin

Veteran local actors Annemarie Stoll and Arwulf Arwulf turned In fine performances as a newlywed couple In one of the vignettes in "What Fresh Hell ís Thls?" an original review based upon the works of wrlter-crltlc Dorothy Parker. The play made its Ann Arbor debut at the Performance Network on July 12 and ran through July 22.


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