“Fresh Hell: The Life and Loves of Dorothy Parker” Premieres at Oldcastle

Fresh Hell: The Life and Loves of Dorothy Parker, will premiere at Oldcastle Theatre Friday, June 9th featuring actress Natalie Wilder as the famous Round Table wit, New Yorker critic, poet, satirist, short story writer, twice Oscar nominated screenwriter, war correspondent, playwright, and wit.


Natalie Wilder as Dorothy Parker in “Fresh Hell” by Eric Peterson at Oldcastle Theatre.

Dorothy Parker was one of the most famous writers in America for several decades beginning in the 1920s.  She was born Dorothy Rothschild and sold her first poem to Vanity Fair in 1914. She worked for a time at Vogue and married Edwin Parker in 1917.  She began writing theatre reviews for Vanity Fair  in 1918 as a stand-in for P.G. Wodehouse. Her office mate was Robert Benchley who became  a beloved humorist, critic and actor. They helped found the famed Algonquin Round Table Group that met in the Manhattan hotel for lunches filled with witty remarks and gallons of alcohol. When Harold Ross founded the New Yorker in 1925, parker and Benchley became part of a “Board of Editors.” Parker’s first piece for the magazine appeared in the second issue. Parker became famous for her short, viciously humorous poems, many about the ludicrousness of her many romantic affairs.  In the twenties alone she published 300 poems. Her first book, Enough Rope was published in 1926. Her wit could be lacerating as in a review of a Katherine Hepburn performance as “having run the gamut of emotion from A to B.”

Her best known short story, Big Blonde was awarded the O. Henry Award as the Best Short Story of 1928. She and her second husband, Alan Campbell joined the exodus of writers in New York to California to write for the movies where they worked on 15 films and were paid as much as $5,000.00 a week.  She and Campbell helped write the 1937 version of A Star is Born for which they received an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay.

During the thirties and forties Parker became a vocal and constant advocate for causes such as civil rights, civil liberties, and was a frequent critic of political authority. She covered the war in Spain during the thirties and wrote movingly about that precursor to World War II. In the 1950s “McCarthy era” she was accused of being a Communist. The FBI compiled a 1,000 page dossier on her and she was blacklisted in Hollywood.

She and Campbell were divorced in 1947, remarried in 1950. Campbell committed suicide in 1963. Parker then returned to New York. All the earnings form her work after her death, were left to Martin Luther King, following King’s death her estate was passed on to the NAACP.

This is the second time playwright Eric Peterson has written about an Algonquin Round Table member. His play Ghost Writers Never Die included the ghost of George S. Kaufman as a character. Peterson, Oldcastle’s Producing Artistic Director, has authored many plays  including an adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities, Civil Union and most recently Bennington Goes to War, which he co-authored with Anthony Marro. Fresh Hell received a reading at the New Jersey Rep which helped Peterson convert the pay from a two actor piece into a one woman play.

“Dorothy Parker is a fascinating character, a brilliant, talented woman who turned her unhappiness into a witty battle with depression.” Peterson said. “I have long been intrigued by the synergy created by the group that met for lunch. They produced hundreds of plays, film scripts, novels, poems, short stories and newspaper and magazine columns. They challenged each other, fought periodically, loved, married and divorced but a great deal of sterling work remains, as does the kinetic energy of their prose and poetry.”

Actress Natalie Wilder has been involved in the crafting of the play almost since its’ inception. she has participated in readings of various drafts of the play at Oldcastle and at New Jersey Rep. Ms. Wilder is a member of the Dorothy Parker Society. Her many appearances with Oldcastle include last season’s 39 Steps, Laugher on the 23rd Floor and A Tale of Two Cities.  She has played Lady Macbeth, Olivia in Twelfth Night and Beth in Dinner with Friends.

The play runs for four performances June 9 through June 11th. Oldcastle Theatre is located at 331 Main Street (VT Route 9) in Bennington, VT. Tickets are $25.00. For additional information or reservations visit the Oldcastle Website at www.oldcastletheatre.org or call 802-447-056

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