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A CurtainUp Review
Ladies of the Corridor
The Peccadillo Reprises its The Ladies of the Corridor and CurtainUp Takes a Second Look
 Ladies  of the Corridor
Kelly AuCoin as Paul Osgood, Susan Jeffries as Lulu Ames (and Katie as Sassy). (Photo: Mike Messer)
The Peccadillo Theater Company has enjoyed some impressive successes in recent seasons. Its revival of Elmer Rice's Counsellor at Law enjoyed a much praised (and deserved) second Off-Broadway run. An original musical about the famed Algonquin Round Table, The Talk of the Town, moved from Bank Street to a dining room at the Algonquin Hotel. While, at least for this reviewer, this aptly site-specific move robbed the original show of some of its flow and charm, but the dinner and show combination has been a big hit and the show has extended to an open run.

Now, those who missed one of the few plays with Dorothy Parker's name above the title, The Ladies of the Corridor, have a second chance to see it, this time at the East 13th Street Theater. Like each of the few plays she wrote it was a collaborative effort, in this case with Arnaud d'Usseau. Its only major production had a distinguished director (Harold Clurman) and stellar cast, but lasted for just 45 (from 10/21/1953 to - 11/28/1953 at Broadway's Longacre Theatre). Thus, even though not a work on which Parker's reputation rests, this re-staging is something of a command performance for her fans.

Though I count myself very much a Parker enthusiast, I missed Corridor at Bank Street and thus welcomed this second chance to catch it and add my own two cents to Macey Levin's review. With the exception of Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, who now plays the separated wife who, unable to stand on her own feet, drinks up her support payments, the main characters are all played by the same actors as those in the original production.

Macey astutely pinpointed the strong points of the various players. But now as then, the standout performance comes from Kelly AuCoin's Paul Osgood (played on Broadway by Walter Matthau). While there are dashes of Parker's famous wit throughout, it takes most of the too mannered and slow first act before AuCoin arrives and picks things up. Ultimately, however, the three-way plot is too episodic and reminiscent of black and white movie tear jerkers of the 1940s and early 1950s not to feel dated. The play's main attraction is as an artifact, to spot the parallels to Parker's own life and enjoy the witty bits and pieces of dialogue that serve as markers to her contribution to the text (Some examples: Connie Mercer warning the newly arrived Lulu Ames to stay away from the gossipy ladies of the hotel because "those women are dead and death is contagious" and Paul Osgood explaining that what he and his ex-wife had in common was "we were both in love with her").

Mr. Wackerman has ably transformed the 13th Street Theater into various locations of the East Side Apartment hotel similar to the one where Dorothy Parker lived -- a busy, successful woman, but one dogged by the same loneliness reflected here and in some of her best stories.

The one character not mentioned in the original review who threatens several times to steal top acting honors is Sassy -- an adorable cocoa colored poodle played by a talented performer named Katie.

The Ladies of the Corridor continues at the 13th Street Theater ( 136 E. 13th Street, 212/ 279-4200) from September 7 to October 23, 2005 (the official re-opening was September 14th). The crafts team, like the cast, is for the most part the same as at Bank street, with Tyler Micoleau handling the lights this time around. The performance schedule at 13th Street will be Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $55.
-- update review by Elyse Sommer, based on 9/20/05 performance.

Original Review by Macey Levin

Don't let yourself get lonely. Loneliness makes ladies our age do the god-damnedest things.
Dorothy Parker's name conjures up her well-known acerbic and insightful wit that once described a Katherine Hepburn performance as "She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B" Parker was a journalist of the first rank, a published poet, writer of short stories, screenwriter and playwright. Her best known play, written with Arnaud d'Usseau in 1953, The Ladies of the Corridor is currently being revived by the Peccadillo Theater Company at the Bank Street theater.

The play juggles three plot lines while depicting a residential hotel catering primarily to widowed women. The various stories do not touch one another, the major interaction usually involving two gossips who station themselves in the lobby as Nosy Parkers (pardon the pun.)

The central plot revolves around Lulu Ames (Susan Jeffries), a recent widow who has a love affair with a man twelve years younger. Her need to be loved and her possessiveness initiate dire conflicts. Grace Nichols shares rooms with her middle-aged son Charles. Their relationship is controlled by Grace's willingness to hold Charles's past transgression over him. The third plot is centered on Mildred Tynan (Patricia Randell), an alcoholic who has left her philandering and abusive husband. Any one of these stories, if developed, could carry the action of the evening. As it is, they are disjointed one-act plays that have been poorly sewn together. They do, however, maintain one's interest through their inherent conflicts and somewhat superficial back stories.

Director Dan Wackerman has wisely laid a contemporary patina over the plot to give the play relevance and a strong contrast between Connie, a childhood friend of Lulu's, and the other women who are willing to accept the deceptively comfortable fate thrust upon them. Jo Ann Cunningham offers a strong performance as a widow left destitute by her husband who has found a job with an interior decorator. In 1953, this makes her a victim rather than a career woman. By today's standards, and in this production, she has become a strong woman who asserts herself in order to survive though she loses some of our respect by several homophobic comments, a throwback to a less sensitive era.

Though the play is set fifty years ago, the central problem of widowhood still persists. There may be more opportunities today to explore a fuller and more satisfying life, but society still has a tendency to place widows, widowers and older single women into a separate, often restrictive, circumstance. Their lives have been redirected and many of these people are unable to make easy adjustments. This is the major image created in the play.

Parker's life is reflected in various events in the work. After divorcing her first husband, Edwin Pond Parker II, she resided in the Algonquin Hotel where she became a member of the famous "Round Table" and indulged her alcoholism. Her last years were spent in solitude and she died alone of a heart attack in her room at Hotel Volney on June 7, 1967.

On the whole, the play is well acted. Jeffries' portrayal of Lulu Ames is nicely controlled and textured, though she becomes somewhat too melodramatic in the final confrontation with her lover Paul Osgood. In an outstanding performance by Kelly AuCoin, this character voices most of Parker's famous witty ripostes. AuCoin brings a jolt of electricity to the production with his entrance in the middle of act one, and the play moves more swiftly from that point.

The calculating and oppressive Grace Nichols is chillingly played by Peggy Cowles. Her razor-like delivery of dialogue and her cold eyes create a villain we love to hate. Ron Bagden makes Charles a forlorn casualty who cries for our sympathy. The contrast between mother and son is involving and painful.

Mildred has a lengthy monologue in the second act that Patricia Randell delivers with intelligence and a strong emotional structure. But that is not enough. The speech is ponderous and unrealistic. Jason O'Connell's bellhop Harry is at one moment unctuous while highly ingratiating the next.

The Bank Street Theater is in a basement and has an odd configuration with some sight lines obstructed. Chris Jones's set design solves most of the problems of the space for the play's several locations. The scene changes, though somewhat slow, are accomplished efficiently and accompanied by appropriate music. Dana Sterling's light design complements the set and adds subtle tones to the production.

Director Wackerman (who is also artistic director of the company) has staged the show well, given the problems of the space. He has made the several expository scenes interesting and moves them at a strong pace until the various conflicts come to the fore. His characters are as well-defined as the script will allow.

Though The Ladies of the Corridor is not a major work nor a work that greatly enhances Parker's reputation, it has strong moments for actors and more than one message to communicate.

THE LADIES IN THE CORRIDOR Written by Dorothy Parker and Arnaud d'Usseau
Directed by Dan Wackerman
Cast: Kelly AuCoin, Ron Bagden, Hal Blankenship, Patrick Boyd, Peggy Cowles, Jo Ann Cunningham, Dawn Evans, Libby George, Susan Jeffries, Jason O'Connell, Andy Phelan, Patricia Randell, Carolyn Seiff, Susan Varon and Katie as Sassy
Scenic Design: Chris Jones
Costume Design: Amy C. Bradshaw
Lighting Design: Dana Sterling
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (one intermission)
Peccadillo Theater company at Bank Street Theatre (155 Bank Street) 212-561-9635
5/2/03-5/25/03; opening: 5/5/03
Thurs-Sat at 8pm; Sun at 3pm. - $15
Reviewed by Macey Levin at 5/5/30 performance.

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