The worldly humor and cynical observations that marked the trademark pen of Dorothy Parker were harnessed into a chamber musical, “The Little Hours,” by the late David Bucknam. Coincidentally, the tuner is having its world premiere by the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, where the scribe was born when her Manhattan family was vacationing there in summer 1893.
The first half of the play consists of four short stories. The frantic desperation of an impatient lover in “A Telephone Call,” is deftly realized by a pert Kim Carson, who waits anxiously for the call that never comes from a philandering boyfriend.
In “The Waltz,” Ashley Puckett Gonzales defines despair and bewilderment in a dancing soliloquy. Brooke Davis as a wonderfully sophisticated grand dame in “From the Diary of a New York Lady” is at a loss over whether to wear the “green crepe, red wool, sapphire earrings, the diamond pendant or the mink with the sable collar.”
The title piece, “The Little Hours,” finds Maria Couch as a divorced chronic insomniac, galloping into a state of melancholia, both manic and tragically funny.
The four players offer finely tuned contrasting performances in the four short scenes, and the elegance of Parker’s archly pointed wit was set to a zesty and richly flavorful score by Bucknam. But, although the music has a consistently appealing sense of grace and flow, no single piece leaves its own boldly melodic identity.
“A Pretty Little Picture,” the second half of the program, is an elusive domestic satire concerning a meekly complaisant husband (Warren Kelley), who is dominated by a chatty wife (Davis) and an ungrateful daughter (Carson), but who fantasizes a seductive proposal from his wife’s best friend (Gonzales).
Kelley offers a keenly focused performance as the hapless husband consumed by a repetitious lifestyle and the futile dream of new horizons.
Director Alan Souza moves his players comfortably on the small stage, designed with modest efficiency by Charles Corcoran. The costume design for act one smartly reflects the flirty ’30s with fashionable turbans, rope pearls, stylish hair styles and white gloves.
Despite her brilliant career as a short story writer, the dream of theatrical success always eluded Dorothy Parker. She would be pleased that her birthplace cradledthe preem of “The Little Hours.”