YOU MIGHT AS WELL LIVE
Temporary Theater Company
at the Okefenokee Playhouse
Scratch a lover, and find a foe. –Dorothy Parker, “Ballade of a Great Weariness”
If ever the war of the sexes had a correspondent, it was the acerbic Dorothy Parker. Parker reported from the trenches–where she was bloodied by her own two marriages, the first with the good-looking, empty-headed patrician Edwin Pond Parker, the second with the younger and bisexual Alan Campbell. What great material these disastrous matings gave her!
Parker’s literary career extinguished itself early; she died in 1967 at the age of 73 wishing she’d flamed out in her prime like Fitzgerald or Stephen Crane. She’ll be remembered as the dragon lady of the 1920s Algonquin round table and for some pungent poems and shrewdly observed short stories that wickedly detail a sexual struggle that will not end.
Adapted and staged by Frank Farrell, seven Parker stories and three poems compose the Temporary Theater Company’s sardonic but slow You Might As Well Live. Illustrating to the point of tiresome repetition how relationships self-destruct, the tales focus on assorted failures to communicate, some deliberate, others innocent.
Most failures are blamed on the woman. In “The Sexes,” a girl ruins an evening by obstinately taking wrong everything that’s said to her by her increasingly frustrated date. It’s typical Parker to show manipulative women making men infantile by playing dangerously dumb. Sometimes she takes the next step and shows, as Ibsen did in A Doll’s House, how this dumbing-down strategy develops. Not here however.
The same protective (and self-defeating) sarcasm appears in “Here We Are.” Set on a train heading for New York, it’s a scary picture of two newlyweds suddenly having to deal with their mutual strangeness; again a too-nervous woman perversely puts the wrong (i.e., jealous, petty, or self-pitying) construction on any remark hubbie forces himself to make. Clearly, these two are really bound for Reno.
“The Lovely Leave” repeats the formula against the backdrop of World War II. A nagging wife ruins her soldier husband’s leave by whining about how bored and lonely her life is; “You’re awful when you’re elegant,” he sullenly replies. Her outburst can be heard as proto-feminist, but Parker prefers to indict this selfish unhelpmate for her indifference to her husband’s imminent peril. The husband’sresponse, “I don’t know what to say to you,” is easily our own.
In “New York to Detroit” and “The Last Tea,” the man in the relationship at last is the more to blame. In “New York,” the problem, ostensibly a bad phone connection, is actually the man’s reluctance to tell his wife he loves her (her petulant insistence doesn’t help). In “Tea,” a guy who’s nursing a hangover tells his date a tad too much about the night before. She suddenly shifts from cooing baby talk to a pointless display of one-upmanship about her other boyfriends. Their feelings hurt, each launches into an unconvincing show of independence, the prelude to the inevitable breakup.
In the stronger fare, Parker manages to get beyond self-fulfilling prophecies of doom. “Glory in the Daytime” contrasts a frumpy house wife with a glamorous actress she’s dying to meet. The famous star turns out to be a fatuous lush, who hallucinates that the wife is a well-known playwright whose husband deeply loves her. Disillusioned by the encounter, the wife discovers she’s happier than is this potted actress wallowing in self-pity over all the louses in her life. The ending here may be smugly safe but not the way it’s reached.
Like several stories here, “Glory” suffers from slow pacing and tentative playing. (The real hilarity turns out to be a drag cameo that Parker had nothing to do with.) As the thespian inebriate, Kristy Munden suggests the grande dame but completely misses the lush (and thus much of the character’s contradictions).
The best part of the evening is the bittersweet monologue “Sentiment.” Linda LeVeque plays Rosalie, a jilted wife who fidgets in the backseat of a cab as she tries to figure out just what did in her marriage. Rosalie is both ridiculous and poignant as she comes close to touching on the reason (a sentimentality her husband couldn’t grasp), then shies away from it or hides her head to avoid seeing a painfully familiar street (it turns out to be the wrong street anyway). Instead of chasing its tail, this story actually builds, and LeVeque digs into Rosalie’s denial like a miner.
The earnest cast have their moments of truth, especially Carol-Ann Black as the condescending hostess in “Glory,” Kim Swinton as a silly wife in “Here We Are” and a sillier one in “Glory,” and Greg Nielson and Edmund Wyson as two pathologically patient husbands. But too often the actors fall back on the (repetitious) material for an inspiration that doesn’t arrive.
Two poems get overly lush and cheerful settings by composer Ben Masterton and are rendered a tad too timidly by Celeste Mrakovich as a singing waitress. Another, “Love Song,” is wrongly inserted into “The Lovely Leave” to suggest a motivation for the selfish wife. It badly distorts the story by suggesting the wife hates her husband; Parker only shows her as bored stiff.
Kevin Kenneally’s sound design does a fine job of filling in the settings that Sheila McGlinchey’s sets barely convey.
Tripod Theatrical Productions
at the Okefenokee Playhouse
From cynicism to innocence. The Okefenokee Playhouse is also the scene for a late-night dramatization of a little girl’s diary. A dramatic rarity from Tripod Theatrical Productions, Opal has been adapted by Kathleen Dunn, Steven Fedoruk, and Susan Karsnick from a journal kept by Opal Irene Whiteley, a sort of time capsule that preserves some very vivid first impressions. It’s as if Lynda Barry not only forgot nothing that happened in her childhood but was right there taking it down.
Around 1904, when she was six and a half, Miss Whiteley started keeping a journal, perhaps her way of establishing stability as her family moved from one logging town to another. She hid it in a hollow log in a forest in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a realm she peopled with imaginary friends, such as animated gray lichens and the fairies who took notes to her dead parents (whom she called “Angel Father” and “Angel Mother”).
When not gathering watercress, carting wood, or churning cream, little Opal developed a writing style of her own, a curiously stiff syntax (“I had knowing,” “I did feed him”) laced with French expressions and favoring the use of the article (the foster mother who beat her and gave her “quick sore feels” is called “the Mama”). When Opal was whipped, “it did make tingles on me.”
What’s fascinating about Opal’s jottings is her direct response to nature and to adult peculiarities (like the man who wore three ties) and especially the sense they give of someone continually reinventing the world. Her impression of how frost pictures on the window go away too soon feels fresh from the mint. Her favorite horse, William Shakespeare (with whom she loved to converse), dies by going into “a very long sleep.” Writing of the “death song of the great birch tree,” she tells her terror as the future log crashes to the ground. She engages in imaginary, sometimes incoherent, conversations with illustrious secret friends: Queen Eleanor, King Edward, Felix Mendelssohn, Mozart’s sister Nannerl, and Louis II (to whom she builds a shrine).
Steven Fedoruk’s staging uses slides, sound effects, stylized white costumes, and multiple narrators (Mitzi McKay as an old Opal is particularly effective). Though it tries too hard to act out Opal’s writings, doesn’t avoid the cuteness that happens when adults play children, and ends too abruptly, Opal does suggest the complex and furious fantasy mongering of a very creative kid, a little girl whose imagination clearly worked overtime to make up for a too-real world. Still, a late-night slot is probably not the best time to perform a child’s diary.
And for the record, a controversy remains about whether Opal’s diary is actually an adult’s hoax. Caveat spectator.