Those Whistling Lads: The Poetry and Short Stories of Dorothy Parker
Maureen Van Trease is — if you’ll pardon the expression — a dead ringer for Dorothy Parker, that legendary quipster and writer of thanatoptic light verse, short stories and criticism. The picture above is of Parker but it might as well be Van Trease. (Although, at 5′ 0″, Van Trease would have towered over Parker , who stood a mere 4′ 11″. There is an excellent representation of the famous wit at Madame Tussaud’s. It is roughly the size of a six year old).
Perhaps to compensate for her physical slightness, Parker became larger than life. She is one of those whose legend was so large that it has long outlived its tiny creator. She ranks with Shaw and Wilde as one of the most quoted writers of modern times. She is the subject of Alan Rudolph’s 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Viscious Circle. New York even has a rather large and flourishing club called the Dorothy Parker Society , dedicated entirely to doing…Dorothy Parker type stuff.
Van Trease wrote and stars in Those Whistling Lads, an educational show about Parker’s life and work designed to tour colleges, and presented recently in the Planet Connections Theater Festivity. The play cleverly juxtaposes enactments of her poems and stories, with bits of Parker’s real life. Humor and tragedy go hand in glove in Parker’s life and art… suicide attempts, failed and aborted pregnancies, unrequited romances and alcoholism fueled her writing, making for some of the darkest “light comedy” in the written record. Van Trease does a good job of connecting the two levels of reality, although the show ends rather abruptly — could use some kind of definitive button, some assessment or conclusion for us to carry out of the theatre with us. Her performance is also great, undoubtedly closer to the real Parker than Jennifer Jason Leigh (who was much criticized for her slurred diction in the Rudolph film). And the rest of the ensemble gamely attack their multiplicity of parts in scenes both serious and silly. All in all, I think Mrs. Parker would approve.