Anderson has adapted Dorothy Parker's story into a taut,
melancholy one-woman play. Parker's writing finds careful
attention here, shining through in all its bittersweet glory.
It is poignant and painful, sad without ever being
overwrought, and last but not least it is damn funny. Anderson
serves not only as adapter but also as performer, bringing
Parker's Big Blonde to life with wonderful specificity.
Entering the empty space set with only a few props and
furniture pieces, Anderson tells the story in the third
person. Slowly as she puts on the trappings of the blonde,
including a bouncing curly wig, she becomes the woman inside
the story. She goes forward, both telling and experiencing the
woman's story, with solid skill and a gentle hand. Anderson
knows how to take her time: She doesn't push and never rushes,
trusting to the power of the text.
Director Anthony Byrnes does a good job of staying out of the
way, giving Anderson just the vital elements she needs. There
is nothing extraneous here, and Byrnes finds a balance between
theatricality and storytelling. The layers pull away gently,
and a slow, methodical scene late in the piece is chilling in
its simple repetition. Byrnes doesn't succeed as well with the
technical aspects of the piece, too often letting Anderson
flounder in the dark. The lighting design, no doubt created
for the space's other show, does nothing for the piece--a
sloppy oversight with unfortunate consequences. Anderson often
ends up obscured in the shadows, even during climactic
moments. We need to see Anderson to care about her. More
specifically we need to see her eyes, and when she is in the
dark--or during a rather long section when she has her back
turned to us--it is hard to stay involved.
Technical flaws aside, the piece is lovely. Funny, sad, and
thoughtful, Parker would only be pleased.
Roots Run Deep
All Jokes Aside: Theatrical rendition of award winning author’s book
takes a serious look at the “typical” blonde.
get the most out of “Big Blonde,” one must know the history of its author,
Dorothy Parker. Born in 1893, she was educated in a New Jersey convent. Upon
moving to New York, she began to make waves in the form of book and theatre
reviews. Her sharp, sardonic wit and often cruel humor found its way into the
pages of Vogue, Vanity Fair and finally The New Yorker, where she achieved
fame for her column “The Constant Reader.” Known for her barbarous
insults, she was quoted as writing, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside
lightly. It should be thrown aside with great force.”
this time, she gained recognition for her satirical, but unstylish poetry as
well as her powerful short stories. She was a co-founder of the Algonquin
Round Table, a gathering of New York literary figures and in addition, she was
a playwright and screenwriter, winning an Oscar for the 1937 version of “A
Star Is Born.”
of her most celebrated short stories is “Big Blonde,” written in 1929. It
is a fictional account of the downfall of a woman, yet relies heavily on
Parker’s own life and is inspired by her first marriage, filled with
alcohol, promiscuity and three suicide attempts.
What rises from “Big Blonde” is the notion that blondes may not have all
popular stereotype of blondes is that of bright, bubbly, fun “guy’s
girls.” Even in modern days, this stereotype still exists. Parker
illustrates that this perception is completely unfounded, existing only on a
surface level. What do these blondes do when not out at a party, in a bar, or
in a bed? “Big Blonde” shows audiences a deeper understanding of these
women past the first dimension. Even though Parker may not have been a blonde,
she shows that she knows what it is like for a woman to be crushed by
The play’s central character is Hazel Morse (Shirley Anderson), just one of
many women in New York enduring the unwanted, but inevitable process of aging
past 25. Hoping to connect to some form of humanity, she gets stuck in a
dead-end marriage to Herbie, a drunk. Prone to crying over distressing
articles in newspapers, she is mentally unstable and often allows unmotivated
emotions to enter her relationships. When all seems lost between Hazel and
Herbie, she takes up drinking and even though she doesn’t enjoy the taste,
it is her means of escape. When Herbie finally leaves her, she begins to spend
time in a neighborhood bar, becoming one of the many lost, lonely women hiding
in a world of men and booze.
Jumping from suitor to suitor, her life takes on less and less meaning, until
finally she has had enough. Her efforts to take matters into her own hands
reveal an undesirable selfishness, but depending on how one looks at her last
few moments, all may not be lost.
What actress Shirley Anderson has done is not exactly an adaptation, but more
of a dramatization of the short story. Despite a few small excised passages,
she performs the short story verbatim, narration included, always speaking of
herself in the third person. What she does do is flesh out the character,
adding her own physical twists in the process of becoming the tragic figure.
With just a chair, vanity table and coat stand, she gives the audience a
performance they will never forget. Alone onstage for the 45 minute running
length, she delivers a powerful monologue, filled with such passion and
heartbreak that it is impossible not to sympathize with her.
Anderson has a perfect grasp on Parker’s themes which could be attributed to
the fact that last year she played Parker herself in “Gatsby in
Hollywood.” Her dramatic action supports the story fully, her mannerisms and
staging strengthen every moment. One particularly audacious and laudable
blocking choice has her back turned to the audience for an extended amount of
time, perfect for the significantly heartrending moment.
vital word is given the attention it deserves, and there is something truly
wonderful about the way Anderson delivers such passages as “she was
beginning to feel toward alcohol a little puzzled distrust, as toward an old
friend who had refused a simple favor.” Almost every line has a deeper
meaning, a layered account of a woman on the edge.
Anderson’s adaptation helps the audience laugh away some of the melancholy
and utter hopelessness of Hazel’s life through satirical instances. She also
has a flair for spinning the words together in a way that puts the audience
into the scattered mind of the protagonist, pathetic as she may be.
A one-woman one-act may not appeal to everyone, but that is their loss. Even
if one has not read Parker’s works, it is still easy to feel her words
through Anderson’s stunning portrayal. For those who have, this play will be
a spectacular elaboration on a classic story.
“Big Blonde,” unlike the troubled main character, is stunning, and should
be a welcome addition to any night out.