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YOU MIGHT AS WELL LIVE (article first published : 2000-07-15)

Straight from a successful season at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, You Might as Well Live written and directed by Brenda Lauth is running in the Playhouse Cellar. It’s a fascinating and interesting insight to one of the world’s literary legends.

Proud of the fact that she never repeated a witticism, American satirical poet Dorothy Parker was born in 1893 into the Rothschild family who, as she said, “lived on a staple diet of witty conversation”. A well-known socialite, she was a book reviewer, theatre critic for Vanity Fair’s and the New Yorker as well as writer of short stories and film scripts. She started the Algonquin Hotel's celebrated Round Table and what became known as The Vicious Circle.

The title comes from Dorothy Parker’s poem: “Razors pain you; Rivers are damp; Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp. Guns aren't lawful; Nooses give; Gas smells awful; You might as well live.”

Brenda Lauth first presented this production in 1995 at the Square Space Theatre at the University of Natal Durban. The show featured Belinda Harward as the younger Dorothy Parker with Catherine Farren playing “Dottie” (as she was called) as an older woman. Since then, the script has undergone a major re-write to its present format which opens with a Scott Joplin number and a taped introduction by Paddy McKew (a reminder of how many good radio actresses we have lost since radio drama was axed by the SABC).

The show again features Belinda Harward as Dorothy Parker. Dapper but dressed in an oddly-designed and ill-fitting suit, Michael Gritten plays her love (“a romance of the unconsummated variety” maintains Dottie) and colleague at Vanity Fair columnist Robert Benchley as well as just about every other man with whom she had a relationship. And with a love life that bordered on the sordid, there were more than a few relationships. Such as playboy Charles MacArthur who she described as “a bird looking for a twig to land on”!

From her convent school days where she must have caused a stir with her belief that “the Immaculate Conception was more likely to have been spontaneous combustion!”, the extraordinary Dorothy Parker lived a flamboyant life. But her sharp and incisive brain wasn’t sufficient to protect her against the temptations of drink and drugs, an unwanted pregnancy and attempted suicide. Described as “One tenth critic, nine tenths hypocrite” she was insecure and lived in a state of emotional confusion and called her blackouts after too much whisky “Scotch Mists”.

The enjoyable play does justice to Dottie’s penchant for waspish humour but switches backwards and forward in time. While this isn’t a problem when presenting personalities who have stayed on a fairly constant course throughout their lives, it makes a difference when the character portrayed is on a relentless downward slide to self-destruction. The switching tends to play with the audience’s sympathies. I also found the numerous lighting states and blackouts distracting and uncalled-for.

It was a joy to hear the human voice unplugged for a chance. If there were any hidden microphones, I certainly didn’t see them. After watching Hamleti earlier in the week with the visiting cast from Kosova performing without microphones in the 1300-seater Playhouse Opera, it proves that we are still producing actors and actresses who have the knowledge and ability to use their voices in a theatrical context.

Running until July 30, with a possible extension to August 6, You Might As Well Live is well worth seeing. Both Belinda Harward and Michael Gritten put in fine focused performances and maintain their sense of the historical period. And if you still don’t know who Dorothy Parker is – remember the line “Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses?”

Tickets at R95 include a three course meal, one of the nicest executive chef Anthony Stacey has produced at the Cellar. For starters, there’s a tasty and not-too-thick Creamed Pumpkin Soup or Calf Liver Fritters with yoghurt and cucumber sauce. The main courses are both delicious and appropriately named for the show. These are Featherless Flappers, chicken glazed with honey and lemon sauce, and Al Capone Lamb which is rolled lamb marinated in orange and sherry. I chose Brown Betty Boob for dessert. This was an interesting combination of stewed apples in port with crumbs and raisins with ice-cream. The other dish was St Valentine’s Day Fudge Gateaux.

Book through TicketWeb. Block bookings and special rates from Pat on (031) 369-9505 (o/h).




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