Dorothy Parker UnScripted
Reviewed by Maureen Lee Lenker
Through February 25th
Dorothy Parker UnScripted is the latest in Impro Theatre’s unique brand of completely improvised full-length plays. Impro is known for their dexterity with narrative and creating a new play from thin air every night structured around the themes and tropes of a select author, playwright or genre. Their whip-smart lampooning of the work of Tennessee Williams, Chekhov, Jane Austen, Shakespeare and Los Angeles Noir have earned rave reviews.
Dorothy Parker UnScripted is another sterling entry in their repertoire, if perhaps a little less accessible than some of their earlier work. Parker is a delicious choice — her biting wit and unique take on Prohibition-era Manhattan provide a fun world for the Impro ensemble to play in. But Parker, with her short stories, poetry, and satirical wit, is not quite as predictable and recognizable to audiences as a figure like Williams, Chekhov, Austen or Shakespeare. Her bon mots are well-known and beloved, but the actual content of her canon is not as well-known as some of these others. This does slightly lessen the enjoyment of the proceedings; the ensemble may be on fire, but you miss the delicious spark of recognition that comes with the company’s burlesque of more familiar work. Instead of satire, you could just as easily feel you were observing the world of a Fitzgerald novel or a delightful pre-Code Hollywood farce.
This is not a knock on the talents or acumen of the performers. They undoubtedly know Parker’s work inside and out, and employ her techniques with aplomb. The problem is more a deficit of knowledge on the part of the general audience. This is perhaps an occupational hazard: Now that Impro has run through many of the most recognizable writers and genres, they must turn to slightly lesser known entities to inspire new work.
If so, Dorothy Parker UnScripted is a fabulous start, and it cannot be said that the evening isn’t as delectable as one of Parker’s favorite gin martinis. The entire ensemble shines as they weave their way through scenes that satirize the Manhattan upper crust, the perils and disappointments of romance, the frustrations of women in a society that underestimates them, and such 1920s phenomenon as Spiritualism and Prohibition. Some of the most delightful scenes arise when characters engage in awkward dances of courtship onstage while other actors deliver their inner monologues into microphones offstage.
The entire ensemble is as sharp on their feet as Parker was with her pen, and the beauty of this production is that everyone is given a chance to shine. The cast rotates every night to showcase the talents of various company members. Unlike other UnScripted efforts, where some performers take on supporting roles, Dorothy Parker UnScripted gives everyone a moment to step into the limelight. Instead of one full-length narrative, the production is structured like a collection of Parker’s work, jumping between vignettes in the same way you would flip between her poems and short stories in a book. It’s a fabulous way to display everyone’s varied talents and sharp comedic timing.
The success of the show so depends on the performers’ unflagging mutual support and their fluid ability to jump between characters and scenarios that it’s almost unfair to single out any one member. It must be noted, however, that Kelly Holden-Bashar, Dan O’Connor, and guest artist Paul Hungerford are particular delights. Parker’s writing suggests that she operated at two levels in society — engaging in it, but always with mental back flaps to keep a running biting commentary going in her mind. Holden-Bashar’s lively and expressive eyes suggest she’s operating from the same space, allowing her to jump deftly into a wide variety of characters and scenarios. O’Connor and Hungerford both look like they stepped directly out of the era, and they are by turns captivatingly romantic, hilariously intoxicated, and sometimes coldly indifferent objects of affection; other times they are slimy and lecherous. Both possess a wide range of characters in their arsenal and bring them all to life with perfection.
Overall, the show is like Parker’s work itself — perhaps a bit lighter than some of the other authors Impro has focused on, but sublime in its biting humor and send-up of the foibles of the upper classes. You’re guaranteed a completely different show every night, with little doubt it will provide a glimpse of the world through Parker’s signature gimlet eye.
Impro Theatre, 1727 North Vermont Ave. #208, Los Feliz; Sat.,7:30 pm; through February 25th; (313) 401-6162 or www.improtheatre.com; Running time 90 minutes with one 10 minute intermission.