Those Whistling Lads: Stories and Poetry of Dorothy Parker
nytheatre.com review by Nicole Bournas-Ney
June 21, 2009
Perhaps the best way to describe Those Whistling Lads is to say that it is straight theatre's answer to the jukebox musical. And like a jukebox musical, its strength is without a doubt the classic material that makes up its core.
Those Whistling Lads is a presentation of six poems and six short stories by Dorothy Parker, prefaced and contextualized throughout by Maureen Van Trease. Van Trease both stars as Dorothy Parker and is responsible for compiling and writing the show. The idea of this piece, directed by Bricken Sparacino, is to reveal that Parker, in fact, should be remembered for work other than her witticisms and humorous short poems. Van Trease also chose the poems and short stories specifically to explore Parker's tumultuous relationship to men.
The conceit of the show works best when the character of Dorothy Parker maintains an amused distance from the performance of her own work; when she steps into the stories, it feels like the themes of the play are simply being hit too hard. The poems also fare better than the short stories because, despite what the production is determined to prove, Parker's work is at its strongest when it maintains an element of her hallmark wit, which the poems, with their acid humor, express more fully. The stories, on the other hand, while sometimes seemingly deeper, are also more prone to becoming silly or repetitive.
The ensemble (Ethan Angelica, Nicole Greevy, Annalyse McCoy, and Glenn B. Stoops at the performance I attended), who play myriad roles, are solid, although Van Trease's Parker is always clearly the focal point (not least because the women in all the stories are interpreted in this production as younger, alternate versions of Parker). The feeling, oddly, was in many ways like a combination of both a one-woman show and a true ensemble piece.
This show was created to be an educational tool to allow audiences to be introduced to Parker's works beyond quips like "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses." According to Van Trease, the ultimate hope for this production is for it to tour college campuses around the country. In this respect, in terms of its educational potential, the show succeeds wonderfully in presenting a rich sampler of Parker's biography and writing. And just as the jukebox musical Jersey Boys introduced a new generation to the Four Seasons, perhaps Those Whistling Lads will, on a smaller scale, introduce Dorothy Parker's work anew.