Felix Cordova & Sherry Engstrom in The Scorpion and the Songbird, part of Benchwarmers at the Santa Fe Playhouse.

The Portable Dorothy Parker, Adobe Rose Theatre, Oct. 6

Benchwarmers, Santa Fe Playhouse, Oct. 8

An entertaining and often touching hour-and-a-quarter is currently to be had at the Adobe Rose Theatre, where Margot Avery is starring in The Portable Dorothy Parker, a one-woman show by local playwright Annie Lux. In development through the past dozen years, this theater piece has been workshopped, refined, and staged in quite a few venues, including this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. In its current state (efficiently directed by Lee Costello), we find the world-weary wit in a slightly dowdy room in a Manhattan residential hotel. She is tolerating a visit from a junior editor who is supposed to prod her into selecting items to include in an imminent Viking Press volume titled The Portable Dorothy Parker, just like the play.

It was a real book. The Viking Portable Library was a series of anthologies instituted in 1943. The volume devoted to Parker appeared in 1944, the fourth in the series to be published — not quite as high in the pecking order as The Portable John Steinbeck, but nonetheless one spot before The Portable World Bible. A founding member of the New York circle of wits known as the Algonquin Round Table, Parker was the queen of the cunning quatrain — for example, “I like to have a martini,/Two at the very most./After three I’m under the table,/After four I’m under my host.” One could cite dozens and dozens of others, not to mention her observations that fell into other forms, from one-liners to short stories and reviews for Vanity Fair or The New Yorker. It adds up to a formidable bank of clever material for Lux to draw on, which she does liberally. But she also weaves it together with original writing that forms a tight fabric of a narrative.

The character who emerges is smart but not really likeable, which is probably a fair representation of the woman as she was. She is never at a loss for an anecdote about her literary frenemies — Scott and Zelda, Ernest, Somerset, Dashiell (“as American as a sawed-off shotgun”) — but she seems to hide behind them somewhat. She reveals bits of autobiography, to be sure, but they’re usually painted with a veneer of cynicism. Avery’s performance was confident and lived-in. The script didn’t lack for zingers, but not all of them landed effectively. Maybe the onslaught of them was too generous, leaving the audience occasionally in the dust. Then, too, the space (almost fully occupied the night I attended) seemed to absorb her voice rather much; as a result, some of her lines went missing, including what I think were some good ones. With a bit more tonal brightness in the delivery, she should be batting this play out of the ballpark as the run continues.

This is also the season for the annual Benchwarmers at Santa Fe Playhouse, which provides a forum for short plays by mostly unrecognized authors. The mandate is that each of the eight plays is limited to the house-supplied set, which consists of neither more nor less than a bench. I recall that past installments limited the running time of each to 15 minutes, a policy it would have been good to enforce again this time — although most do come in under the wire.

This fine incentive provides opportunities for amateur actors and directors to use their skills in front of a warmly disposed audience. Even more important, it enables budding playwrights to see their work assume form onstage. Nobody took this opportunity lightly. A couple of writers considered social issues: Jay Schecker, whose One Step Farther focuses on failed marriages and fractured families, and Marguerite Louise Scott, whose The Scorpion and the Songbird looks with kindness on the homeless. Two had to do with fantasy worlds: Richard Dargan’s Still Life With Tulips, about an encounter between a museum-goer and a ghostly painter, and Katie Johnson’s Benchportals, in which people waft through space-time shifts. Two took movies as their points of departure: Dorothy Touches Down by Dianna A. Lewis, which connects to The Wizard of Oz, and John Cullinan’s For Lack of a Tail, which involves mouse mortality — specifically the mice from Disney’s Cinderella. Talia Pura’s Meet the Authors chronicles the misadventure of four authors hawking their books in Central Park.

In Mark Friedman’s engaging Waiting for Waiting for Godot, two audience members sit in a theater waiting for Beckett’s famous play to begin, and they wait and talk and wait and talk and we’re sure the play is never going to begin and then some things happen or they don’t. It was a lollipop for theater-lovers, and it benefited from astute direction by Ron Bloomberg and the commendable acting of David Trujillo. This little play rose to the occasion and some distance above it. 

“The Portable Dorothy Parker” runs through Sunday, Oct. 15, at Adobe Rose Theatre (1213-B Parkway Drive); www.adoberosetheatre.org.

Benchwarmers continues through Oct. 22 at Santa Fe Playhouse (142 E. DeVargas St.); www.santafeplayhouse.org.

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