Back in the day when I was a fat, nasty, jealous, sarcastic, mean-spirited teenager, my dream was to be a Round Table regular, the one at the Algonquin Hotel where a select group of novelists, playwrights, journalists and editors at the epicenter of New York’s literary culture, as well as its cruelest wits, mocked the pretentious foibles of mediocrities or could just as quickly bite the hand of the bosom buddy beside them.
Need I tell you I dreamed in vain? I had more than enough rage, fury and indignation to fit in, but I was still unborn, in Philadelphia and totally lacked media contacts. The Algonquin coven included enough newspaper columnists to make sure that every calumnious word they wrote or uttered received the 1920’s version of being instantly re-tweeted.
Their brightest lights were the Larry David of that day, Playwright George S. Kaufman, a major maven of human imperfections, and the cynically honest poet/author Dorothy Parker. As for Noel Coward, the Brit powerhouse playwright, composer, director, yada, yada of flamboyant cheek and chic, pose and poise, I’m certain he found a seat whenever he found himself in the neighborhood.
Samples of their malicious wit?
After a mediocre bridge partner asked Kaufman to excuse him because he needed to use the mens room, Kaufman told him, “For the first time today I’ll know what you have in your hand.”
When Parker’s affair with emerging playwright (and notorious womanizer) Charlie MacArthur resulted in a pregnancy followed by an abortion, she mused, “How like me, to put all my eggs in one bastard.”
As for Noel, the most upper-classly savage and sutble, posthumously praised a particularly stupid acquaintance who’d blown his brains out with, “He must have been an incredibly good shot!”
Where are they now?
Moss Hart and George Kaufman’s Pulitzer Prize winning collaboration, You Can’t Take it With You, back on Broadway this time starring James Earl Jones and a slew of Tony nominated actors, proves once again that that character-based quips still wow the critics and make audiences LOL.
Dorothy Parker has been banished to the NoHo basement Huron Club, where
Chicago veteran actress Jennifer Engstrom recites the lady’s poetry and prose attired in tawdry shmattas which would have thwarted Dorothy’s eggs from wandering even a short distance from her ovaries.
As for Noel, Eric Michael Gillett, like Noel, a man of many talents, brings Noel to life again in his Man About Town Cabaret show at the Laurie Beechman Theatre.
How did an 8-year-old California lad with a lateral lisp develop enough of a lilting tongue to sing Coward’s sophisticated lyrics. “Schools had speech therapists then and my very zealous one corrected my impediment so thoroughly that everyone thought I was British until I was 18 when I sloppy-ed up my pronunciation to sound less affected. Then, last year, for a show called Dirty Little Songs, I assumed the persona of an archetypal British gentleman and sung Coward’s cleverly dirty ditty Uncle Harry’s Not a Missionary Any More and I decided to do a Coward show for my annual Cabaret Cares benefit to see if it flew. It did. My musical director, Rick Jensen, a Coward freak who knows and loves the material, worked with me and that show provided the skelton for Man About Town.”
If anyone fully understands Coward’s Why Must the Show Go On? it’s Eric Michael! The night before he and Rick were scheduled to lay down music tracks for Man About Town, a horrendous conflagration destroyed his apartment and most of his possessions. The fire didn’t stop him, but it gave him an enhanced emotional appreciation for Coward’s wistful, melody and touching lyrics: “Comes the wild, wild weather, comes the wind, comes the rain … comes the joy, comes the pain,” along with an equally unforgettable Someday I’ll Find You and Zigeuner. Eric Michael powerful voice triumphs when matched with intelligent, meaningful poetry. As for Coward’s comic patter in Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage Mrs. Worthington, “It’s become much more amusing to me since I began teaching and coaching.”
Eric Michael finds Coward still relevant now. “His material is timeless. He’s a witty writer but also a serious poet. Laughing when the world is literally going up in flames around you has new meaning for me.”
You Can’t Take it With You, Longacre Theater, 220 West 48th Street.
Excuse My Dust (A Dorothy Parker Portfolio) Soho Playhouse Huron Club, 15 Vandam Street until November 8th
Man about Town ,The Laurie Beechman Theater, 407 W. 42nd St. Monday nights October 27 and Nov 3rd at 7 pm.