Interview with Stuard Derrick, Creator of Girls Who Wear Glasses

BOSTON, Sept. 24, 2004 -- "Girls Who Wear Glasses: The Wicked Wit and Wisdom of Dorothy Parker" by Provincetown, Mass., playwright Stuard Derrick played this past summer on Cape Cod. RBS Chairman David Trumbull interviewed Mr. Derrick.

How did the piece come together about Dorothy Parker?

My good friend, Lucy Bishop, who is a director of children's theater here on Cape Cod, is a real Dorothy Parker fan. She keeps a copy of "The Portable Dorothy Parker" by her bedside. Lucy, who by the way was in the cast of "Girls Who Wear Glasses" and was just terrific, had acquired a copy of Dorothy Parker's play, "The Ladies of the Corridor," and gave it to me as a possible piece to direct. I thought it would be too ambitious an undertaking for a summer project -- the size of the cast being a major consideration -- but it got me thinking about Dorothy Parker, whom I've always enjoyed reading, and how much fun it might be to put together an evening of readings of her poetry, short stories, reviews and plays. I proposed the idea to the artistic director of the Payomet Performing Arts Center here on Cape Cod, and we received rights clearance from the NAACP, who control the literary rights to Parker's estate. The next step was to make selections from Parker's works -- that was the fun part! -- and assemble them into an evening's entertainment. Judging from the fact that we sold out every performance of "Girls...." this summer and received unanimously terrific press notices, I would say it was a success and a testament to the enduring popularity of Dorothy Parker.

How did you select, out of the many writings of Mrs. Parker, the materials to include in the play?

Dorothy Parker's writings lend themselves well to a dramatic reading. Her poems are well suited, of course, for readings (and fit very nicely for four voices -- which is why I decided to use four actresses). And many of her short stories "read" almost like dialogue between characters in a play (particularly in "Arrangement in Black and White" and "Here We Are" -- two of the short stories I chose to include in the evening). Her book and theatre reviews are classics, and I didn't worry about audiences not being familiar with personalities like Margot Asquith and Lou Tellegen -- the humor of the reviews is so evident and the audiences laughed heartily. I tried to select many of her more famous works as well as less familiar ones that I thought the audiences might enjoy, and I also selected a broad range to span the lifetime of her writing career.

Do you find there is an audience for Mrs. Parker among young people?

Resoundingly, yes! There were many younger members in our audiences. Many of them were familiar with Dorothy Parker mainly through the "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" movie that starred Jennifer Jason-Leigh, which took, I think, a very dark few of her personality. As one critic who reviewed "Girls...." pointed out, our evening served as a corrective to that somber interpretation of Parker's life. So many audience members who did not know her work that well were delighted at just how funny and insightful she was in her writing. One of the great joys of doing "Girls...." was the number of people who came backstage after the show who didn't know Parker's work previously and were now anxious to read about her on the internet and buy her books. Another interesting thing about performing "Girls..." which I and my actresses noted was looking out at the audience during a performance and seeing many people silently mouthing the verse along with the performers onstage! It kept us on our toes about being strict to the words as Parker wrote them!

To what do you attribute the continued interest in Dorothy Parker?

I think audiences really respond to the level of sophistication, urbanity, humor and insight that writers like Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley displayed in their writing. That level of cosmopolitanism -- that sort of wry smile and arched eyebrow over the lip of a martini glass (no doubt filled with bathtub gin from Tony's speakeasy) -- perhaps can only be bred in a city like New York (or at least a New York that, in my opinion, sadly doesn't exist anymore) and is more than just a nostalgia for a vanished era. It's an appreciation of elegant wit and writing that sadly is in short supply in present-day humorists, too many of whom mistake cynicism for humor and sarcasm for wit.

Have you done any other Parker pieces? Have you any plans for future work related to Dorothy Parker?

This was my first experience in adapting Dorothy Parker's work for the stage. I'm again looking at "Ladies of the Corridor" since the excerpts we performed were so well-received, perhaps with the possibility in mind of doing a staged reading of the play in the near future.

Have you any other arrangements for "Girls Who Wear Glasses"?

I've had several informal conversations with people who expressed an interest in performing the piece in other venues, but nothing formalized so far.

Robert Benchley was Mrs. Parker's best friend. Have you read Benchley's essays or drama criticism, or seen his movies?

Being a "constant reader" like Dorothy Parker, I'm always happy to encounter an author whose works I am not familiar with. One of the happy aspects of doing "Girls...." was researching the works of other Roundtable members like Robert Benchley. I had read his drama criticism in the past and several of his essays, but reading more of his work -- particularly his collected essays and stories -- was just a great experience and introduced me to a writer whom I will go back to again and again.

Hope that answers your questions.

Thanks for your interest!

Appearing in Girls Who Wear Glasses: Ellen Kane, Stuard Derrick (who also concieved and directed the piece), Kevin Shenck, Judith Partelow, and Lucy Bishop

Robert Benchley Society Chairman David Trumbull and wife Mary with the cast of Girls Who Wear Glasses after the July 31 performance.