The Austin Chronicle


Another Evening with Dottie P.: Bracing Shot of Wry

August 7, 1998, Arts

Movements Gallery,
through August 15
Running time: 1 hr

For one night, put off Club DeVille. Don't meet at Caucus Club or Continental or any of those swank haunts of the warehouse district. Pack your cigarette case and your dancing shoes, and hoof it to Sixth Street, 'cause the cool kids are puttin' on a play just for you. As conceived by gNatalie Rodic and Shirk Workers' Onion, An Evening With Dottie P. is an example of that all-too-rare art form: drinking man's theatre. The play plants its own elegant, if somewhat spare, speakeasy on the cozy second floor of Movements Gallery, overlooking the hustle and bustle of downtown. Make yourself comfy in this quaint joint, kick back and chat with friends, as cigarette girls light your stogies, as women swaying in heels and men gussied up in tweeds mingle, all to the tune of the lush Thirties-era music swirling around you. We're here to celebrate Dorothy Parker, famous wit of the Algonquin Round Table and focus of a latter-day renaissance, in no small part owing to the 1994 film biography (to which this production bears only a comfortable resemblance).

After a while, the play starts, woven from four of Parker's caustic short stories. It opens with "You Were Perfectly Fine," about the romantic repercussions of one man's drunken escapades, then switches gears and changes locales in "The Last Tea," "The Young Woman in Green Lace," and, finally, the sly cat-and-mouse game, "The Sexes." Dorothy Parker (Rodic), looking rather stormy and sloshed in the corner, watches as her characters play out the scenes of her design, offering monologues taken from her dark, often poignant poetry as segues from piece to piece. Chase Staggs' lighting design casts the room in a warm mustard yellow, which, along with Corey Cruser's beautiful songs, help transport us to that specific time of yesteryear. Loaded with wry observations about sexual politics and the ironies of human behavior, each episode also introduces a new heroine -- Aimee McCormick, Anna Krejci, Emily Lundin, and McCormick again -- each tall and slender, each fabulously in vogue and pouty, although it is McCormick, with her lithe, slinky movements, that best invokes the elusive spirit of the Parker protagonist. Her romp with Michael Joplin in the play's final scene, "The Sexes," captures that carefully calculated banter of the parlor room, the coy little sashays into bed that so defined an era in which everything was done but so little was said.

Dottie P. is not perfect, mind you. It is unpolished, and it could dig deeper into the life of this woman who, essentially neglected for decades, has seized a nerve in today's twentysomething women. Instead, it is content to skim the surface of the opaque Parker, a celebration of her semi-autobiographical writing rather than an analysis of the woman herself. Perhaps indicative of a defect in Parker's writing (or a strength, depending on how you look at it), a few of the male characters appear more like devices, simply there to supply our slippery heroines with warm bodies to wrap their legs around. Consequently, our focus is riveted on these females, because they are decorated in all their feathery plumage, because they appear from the outset more complicated, and because all their sly maneuvering seems to have a delicious effect on these daft men. But all this is overshadowed by the spontaneous flavor of the play, the warm, prickly enthusiasm of the actors, and the fact that dammit, these people look like they are genuinely having fun. Overall, Dottie P. is a unique theatrical experience, a shot of entertainment that goes down smooth. But with a lingering kick and a stinging aftertaste, it's a play that could use a chaser. Try Club DeVille. --Sarah Hepola


Zachary Scott Theatre Center,
through August 8
Running time: 1 hr, 5 min

Where do we fit in the great scheme of things? When looking up at the stars, noting how long they've hung in the heavens and how long they will outlast us, the realization that we humans are rather insignificant looms large. Our most profound discoveries and concepts might not make it into a universal compendium of the ideas of the cosmos. Worse, our world might not even be a blip on the cosmic map. So where does that leave us? Unable to make a ripple in the big pool, perhaps an investigation of the little things is in order; a look at "the small," as Johnson/Long Dance Company calls those everyday moments and minutiae that make us human.

Although the title of J/LDC's new piece mocks itself as an "Atlas of the Universe," the theme that links the series of vignettes that comprise the work revolves around the infinitesimal details that make up our little human existence. And how quirky and offbeat some of these details are! Sometimes the vignettes are pure dance; sometimes there is text by company member Andrew Long; some use the most mundane of props with playful abandon (a suitcase, a shoeshine machine, a pile of dirt, a chair); some have the performer barely moving, barely lighted, simply processing across the stage. J/LDC employs music, silence, color, black and white, odd props, plenty of costume changes, improvisation, and highly technical dance to create this engaging piece. A sense of play, of image, minimalism, and detail, makes J/LDC's Atlas of the Universe an enjoyable, if not entirely groundbreaking, evening of dance-cum-theatre.

The company of four dancer-actors demonstrates a taut, disciplined, yet fluid and even whimsical ability. With only a few momentary exceptions, all four maintain a strong technique and clear focus that holds the audience in attentive amusement. Nicole Wesley turns in a flawless, sensuous dance to an evocative Brazilian song. Long ruminates about the legacy we shall leave surviving earthlings 250,000 years from now. He also indulges in a clownish, Podunk assault on a pair of hapless Hawaiian tourists. Darla Johnson's suitcase dance displays her strength, though in the Whisenhunt theatre's unfamiliar in-your-face thrust arrangement, the sharpness of her freezes lacks consistency. Rudy Villela's shoeshine improvisation and the barking dog slipper routine are endearing and exuberant. Only once do all four performers dance at the same time (and even then not as a group), which adds to a feeling of loneliness and isolation that one might find living on a distant planet on a distant arm of a distant galaxy in the infinite universe.

The question, "Is this dance?" sneaks about the periphery of the performance. While Long opined during the good-natured post-performance discussion that Atlas takes J/LDC closer to theatre than it has ever been, perhaps the work most naturally resides somewhere in between, more performance art than pure dance or theatre. The material is thematically linked, yes, but each vignette could stand on its own as there is no necessary order to the performance. No one piece seems absolutely irreplaceable (though the racing dinosaurs might be the best duet ever staged at Zach). For all the different and clever examples of "the small," the evening seems to hit a rhythm that leads to an unintentional sense of uniformity. Almost all the turns end with the performer drifting offstage in the encroaching dark, creating a somnambulistic feel to the show. Still, audiences should revel in the sharp performances and cleverly presented details, and not worry so much about the work's structural staleness. --Robi Polgar

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