ED2023 Caro Meets ED2023 Interviews ED2023 Theatre

Annie Lux: The Portable Dorothy Parker

By | Published on Monday 31 July 2023

‘The Portable Dorothy Parker’ is a play by Annie Lux that shares its name with a 1940s anthology of stories and poems written by Parker, and is set as the writer, satirist and founding member of the Algonquin Round Table gets to work compiling the book.

Performed by Margot Avery and directed by Lee Costello, the play was previously presented at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, prompting follow on performances at the Phoenix Arts Club in London.

This August the show is returning to theSpace, which gives me the perfect opportunity to chat to Annie about the play, its subject, and how she went about bringing Parker to life on the stage.

CM: Firstly, can you tell us what ‘The Portable Dorothy Parker’ is about? Obviously, Dorothy Parker – but what aspects, or period, of her life does it focus on?
AL: ‘The Portable Dorothy Parker’ finds the famous wit at age 50, as she is beginning to gather poems and stories together for Viking Press’s 1943 collection of the same name.

Her much younger soldier husband has just left for England, and the last thing she wants to do is work. But a young woman editor – unseen by the audience – has shown up at her door to make her do just that.

As she sorts through and occasionally reads aloud from her works, she reminisces about her life and loves, her famous friends, the founding of The New Yorker, her time in Hollywood, and, of course, the Algonquin Round Table.

CM: What themes are addressed through the play?
AL: Love, loss and literature! And a glimpse into a fascinating life lived in a fascinating time.

CM: What inspired the creation of this play?
AL: One grey December afternoon the three of us – director Lee Costello, actress Margot Avery and myself – were together for the first time in many years.

Lee opined that she’d always thought that Margot should play Dorothy Parker, and that I should write the script. Margot’s mother, actress Margot Stevenson – who had actually met Dorothy Parker in California in 1931 – chimed in, “I’ve always thought so too!”

I immediately went out and bought the most recent edition of Viking Press’s ‘The Portable Dorothy Parker’ and quickly realised that Mrs Parker was around the same age as we were when she assembled that collection.

That sparked the idea to set the play while that was happening. It gave a reason for the character to be talking and sorting through her works.

CM: Did you do a lot of research before writing it? How accurate is it in terms of representing Parker’s life and personality? Are there fictional elements?
AL: Oh my yes, lots of research! I read everything: all the poems, all the stories, all her criticism, interviews, and every biography out there, making copious notes along the way.

While I took a liberty here and there with time and place, and included an apocryphal story or two, the play is very accurate in depicting Mrs Parker’s life and, I hope, her personality.

In fact, the very premise is based on a story about George Oppenheimer, the Editor-In-Chief of Viking Press, locking himself and the famously procrastinating Dorothy Parker in a hotel room with a stack of paper and a bottle of scotch.

CM: The play’s been to Edinburgh before, of course: what prompted the 2023 return to the Fringe?
AL: We had such a wonderful experience and response when we presented the show in 2017. Despite being in a theatre at the top of 50+ stairs, we had wonderful houses every day. We’re so excited to bring the play back to Edinburgh after a hiatus prompted, of course, by the pandemic.

CM: What hopes and expectations do you have for this upcoming run at the Festival?
AL: I hope the audience will come away with a deeper appreciation for Mrs Parker, both as a writer and as a very human woman, and that they’ll be inspired to read more of her work. We’d love to have more opportunities to bring the play to new audiences.

CM: What do you like about the Fringe? Is there anything you don’t like?
AL: I love the energy. It’s so great to be around so much creativity: so many shows, so many artists! It’s also wonderful to be able to spend so much time in the beautiful city of Edinburgh.

The only thing to dislike is that it’s not possible to see as many shows as I’d like, especially ones that have a running time that overlaps ours.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, now? What drew you to a career in the arts? How did that career begin?
AL: I’ve been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil, but I’m from a small town and a background that didn’t include much theatre.

When I was a teenager, I saw a televised version of the play ‘Our Town’ by Thornton Wilder and decided then and there that I was going to be a playwright. I wanted to make theatre before I even understood everything that meant.

When I was a Carnegie Mellon undergrad, I had an internship in the literary office at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre, but I realised that I didn’t like being in the office. I wanted to be down in the theatre, getting my hands dirty. Where else does a writer get to do that?

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
AL: I had the opportunity to learn from some of the best theatre artists in the world at both NYU and Columbia. I was lucky enough to be given a stint as playwright-in-residence at an artist colony in the Catskill Mountains, which is where I met Lee.

Truly, ‘The Portable Dorothy Parker’ has been such a joyous collaboration between Lee, Margot and me, and an incredible ride that is happily still in motion.

We’ve travelled to festivals and theatres all over America. Then, after our first run in Edinburgh, we were invited to do the show at the Phoenix Arts Club, underneath the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End. That was quite a thrill!

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
AL: I’m hoping to get lots more work out into the world. I have a few new plays in various stages of progress and am planning to resurrect a few that I’d written in the past. Plays need to be staged and performed, not stuck in a drawer!

CM: What’s coming up next for ‘The Portable Dorothy Parker’?
AL: We’re looking into doing a run in New York City next year. We’ve also been invited to present the show at a theatre in Los Angeles early next year, and are hoping to book other dates around the country as well.

CM: What’s coming up next for you?
AL: In addition to continuing with ‘The Portable Dorothy Parker’, I have a new play in progress, ‘Frost’, about an incident in which Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism at the age of eleven.

It had an initial reading at Ensemble Studio Theatre in Los Angeles last year and got a very nice response. I’m hoping to get it up on its feet later this year.

I’m also working on a comedy about Cinderella’s stepsisters called ‘Grimm Reality’. That one might be fun to bring to Edinburgh next year!

‘The Portable Dorothy Parker’ was performed at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall at Edinburgh Festival 2023.

LINKS: theportabledorothyparker.com

Photo: Fredda Tone