Excuse my Dust

Edinburgh Festival review
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Gilded Balloon Productions and Oran MorE
Terry Wale (writer, director)
Lesley Mackie (Dorothy Parker)
Running time

In this one woman show, we meet Dorothy Parker, American short story writer, poet, and critic, a legendary figure in the New York literary scene of the 1920s and 30s contributing to Vogue, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. She was especially famous for her intelligent wit and sharp humour. She had a low opinion of romantic relationships and her own marriages to "one dipso, one fairy" were prone to failure. Parker had extra-marital affairs, drank heavily and attempted suicide three times, yet maintained the high quality of her literary output.

The tiny stage is set with a single bed, desk, typewriter, dressing table and screen draped in evening frocks. On the soundtrack some bluesy jazz tunes, as Dorothy (played by the petite, raven haired Lesley Mackie) strolls on in dressing gown and slippers. We, the audience, are guests in her home, perhaps for a soiree, as she introduces herself and begins to dip into the memoirs of her life and work. She suspects that we only know one or two of her famous quotations such as "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses" - but know little else about her.

As Dorothy sips a glass of Jack Daniels, we learn about her unhappy childhood - her mother died when she was 5, she hated her father and curiously, for a Jewish girl, she was sent to a Catholic school. Perhaps these strange experiences inspired her to write, to express her feelings. At the age of 16 she sold a poem to Vogue and her career took off.

We hear how she loved the glitter of Broadway first nights, but hated having to then review the damn play. She loved being a literary critic, except for the fact that she had to read the books. But behind the stories about celebrity friends and her glamorous lifestyle, she realises she is growing older - "why are we called middle aged - why can't we be either young or dead" - and more and more bitter about her failure in love and friendship. She talks of her soul mate at Vanity Fair, fellow writer, Robert Benchley and her admiration for Scott Fitzgerald, (with whom she had an affair). She reads a beautiful passage from "The Great Gatsby" - a portrait of the age.

Dorothy gets ready to go to the theatre, dressing up in a black frock, feather hat and fur wrap. We feel her anticipation of going out on a romantic night on the town - the sense of period and place is brilliantly achieved. Through precise timing and witty anecdotes, Mackie is utterly hilarious and captivating. But through the hour, her mood blackens, as she knocks back a bottle of bourbon, sinking slowly into a sad, melancholic state. She certainly had a darkly cynical view of life and men ....

"By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying,
Lady, make a note of this -
One of you is lying."

Times: until 27 August, 1.45pm