Sunday, January 8, 2012

Review of The Dorothy Parker Audio Collection

The Dorothy Parker Audio Collection (2005) Performed by Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Alfre Woodard, and Shirley Booth. HarperAudio.

The Dorothy Parker Audio Collection was released by HarperAudio. It presents in spoken format the writings of the legendary wit Dorothy Parker who worked principally for Harold Ross's New Yorker and was a member of the celebrated Algonquin Round Table. The collection features her short stories and reviews, showcasing Parker's devastating wit and social acerbity.

Four talented actresses perform the works: Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Alfre Woodard, and Shirley Booth. Booth did her own Parker edition with Caedmon in 1998, and it's very possible that her contributions to this set come from there.

The audio collection starts off strongly with "Big Blonde" read by Cynthia Nixon of Sex & the City fame. This is a darkly powerful and somewhat depressing short story full of drinking and failed relationships, topics all too familiar to Dorothy Parker. Parker won the O. Henry Award for this one, which sounds more like Fitzgerald than O. Henry.

With a much lighter tone, "Mrs. Post Enlarges on Etiquette" demonstrates the kind of scathing wit and audacity for which Parker is justly known. Christine Baranski brings a humorous elan to the reading, and it is already apparent that each of these readers can bring a variety of stunning effects to the table.

"Dusk before Fireworks" is the first story read by Alfre Woodard. It is a tale of jealousy, mostly a dialogue between a man and a woman. Their conversation is inopportunely interrupted by a series of phone calls to the gentleman's apartment from a number of other women. The question always is whether the resulting jealousy is really justified. I won't give anything away here. Or have I anyway?

Parker's "Review of Redemption" is read by Baranski, who gets to do the theatre reviews, and she does them very well. Parker reviews a Tolstoy play, and quite favorably, if I'm not misreading her mordant wit. It might even be worth seeing, but, alas, John Barrymore is no longer around to play the lead.

Next, "But the One on the Right" is read by Woodard, who shows that she too can do well with Parker's delicious social satire. Parker is seated for dinner next to a man whose limited conversational skills she appropriately skewers.

"Horsie" is one of those devastating stories I remember vividly from the Modern Library's collection which I read over thirty years ago. I found it somewhat upsetting then and I still do now, as it effectively describes how an unattractive woman's appearance impacts her life.

"Diary of a New York Lady" is read brilliantly by Nixon, who gets the mood of this silly society lady just right. It can't be an easy thing to strike the correct tone in these stories with all their surface giddiness and caustic undercurrents.

With "The Game," it is Baransky's turn to showcase her impressive versatility. This charades-like endeavor proves to be a strikingly savage party game, and Baransky shows us that her serious side can be every bit as skillful as her comedy.

"Just a Little One" is read by Nixon, who demonstrates a wide expressive range. She's clearly able to render all sides of Dorothy Parker, a writer who can plant the seeds of tragedy in even minor social superficialities.

"The Bolt Behind the Blue" is read by Woodard. Two women from vastly different social strata meet cordially every now and then but never get to realize they share some rather excessive rhetoric.

"Valedictory Review," read by Baranski, is Parker's farewell theatre review, with many appropriate parting shots.

"Such a Pretty Little Picture" is like so many of Parker's titles, of course, ironic.

"Lady With a Lamp" is read by Shirley Booth. She gets the last four pieces here, and they're included at the end because as a group they're so different from what we've already heard. Her approach seems more theatrical than the others and apparently was not originally intended to be part of this collection. Each of her four selections is a monologue, and she acts the parts quite wonderfully.

"The Waltz" actually has a musical accompaniment! Well, why not? This is an audiobook, after all.

"Cousin Larry" is one of those two-edged stories the storyteller herself doesn't seem to fully get. I've always admired writers who could pull that off.

Finally, "A Telephone Call" provides an appropriately devastating end to the set.

This collection is fairly long and varied, but to its credit, it leaves you wanting even more!



  1. Very interesting. Like most people, I know her for countless pithy one-liners rather than longer written pieces. Time to head to the library I think...