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“The Whistling Girl”, a Dorothy Parker musical at Irish Arts Center
November 17, 2017 - November 18, 2017
Irish Arts Center is proud to present The Whistling Girl, the U.S. premiere of the collaboration between Dublin-based composer/keyboardist Trevor Knight and jazz singer/actor Honor Heffernan that sets the fabulously mordant words of 20th Century poet/critic/playwright/screenwriter/New York legend Dorothy Parker to song. Embracing dirty-cabaret, electronic-vaudeville, rock, and jazz, Knight’s arrangements lend a vital theatricality to Parker’s sardonic verse. He, Heffernan, and their full band (Tom Jamieson on drums, Garvan Gallagher on bass, and Ed Deane on guitar) channel the spirit of an American literary icon during Parker’s years of notoriety in New York. The event is presented in association with the Dorothy Parker Society.
Parker was born in 1893 New York, and, after enduring a tumultuous childhood, learned to weave the bitterness of life’s misfortunes into witty poetry, publishing her first work with Vanity Fair in her early 20s. She quickly immersed herself in New York media, becoming New York’s only female theater critic. Her fast rise was coupled with her involvement as a central member of the infamous Algonquin Round Table writers’ group, aka the “Vicious Circle” of writers that included Harold Ross, George S. Kaufman, Robert Benchley, Robert E. Sherwood, and on-again-off-again members like Tallulah Bankhead, Noël Coward, Harpo Marx, and Peggy Wood. Among this powerful group of wordsmiths and thespians, Parker stood out as a prolific poet (publishing over 300 works in the 1920s alone) and unfettered wit.
The music Knight composed for The Whistling Girl, per Jackie Hayden’s review in Hot Press Magazine, “echoes of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, as well as some of the keyboard flourishes familiar to fans of Ray Manzarek of The Doors, a touch of Kraftwerk here, and Mark Knopfler there and Leonard Cohen somewhere else. That musical approach chime[s] well with a woman very much ahead of her time, as if the world [were] finally catching up.”
Parker’s incisive spirit—and her fearlessness in critiquing what she wanted when she wanted, regardless of backwards social mores—is embodied in Knight and Heffernan’s song cycle. So too is the fact that her intellectually driven and thereby mythologized social life was also paired with both personal turmoil—depression, alcoholism, suicide attempts, political scapegoating during the McCarthy Era—and the persistent urge, despite these immense setbacks, to fight various forms of injustice. (She helped found the Hollywood Anti-N*zi League, supported children in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and left her literary estate to the NAACP.) “Everything she is saying is just as relevant today as when she wrote [it],” Heffernan told the Galway Advertiser. “We’ve called the show The Whistling Girl, which is one of her poems. It was a derogatory term for women who whistled or were badly-behaved, so the title plays on the quirkiness of Parker’s nature.”
This event will take place on November 17 and 18 at 8pm at Irish Arts Center (553 West 51st Street). General tickets are $28 for non-members and $23 for members, while premium tickets are $34 for non-members and $28 for members; they can be purchased at 866-811-4111 or irishartscenter.org.
About the Artists
Honor Heffernan has been performing as both a singer and actor for more than 30 years. Her career began in the early ’70s as Ireland’s first female rock singer when she joined The Watchtower, led by Alan Dee. Following the band’s European tour, Heffernan went on to work with many of Ireland’s top blues, rock and folk musicians. Her jazz singing career began in 1983 when she was invited by songwriter and television/radio presenter Shay Healy to join the Jim Doherty Trio in an experimental program that saw musicians from different backgrounds perform together. The experience led to long associations with renowned jazz musicians Jim Doherty, Noel Kelehan, Louis Stewart, Stephen Keogh, and many more. Today she enjoys a reputation as Ireland’s leading jazz singer.
Trevor Knight is a Dublin-based composer, musician, director and actor with a special interest in cross-disciplinary projects. Collaborations with Japanese butoh dancers Gyohei Zaitsu and Maki Watanabe include “The Devil’s Spine Band,” “Slat,” “The Gift,” and “Visitant.” A new piece, “A Skein Unwound,” with artist Alice Maher and dancer Gyohei Zaitsu, was unveiled at the 2015 Yeats Festival in Sligo. Knight released three albums in the ’80s with his band Auto da Fé, and has toured and recorded with artists including Philip Lynott, Donovan, Roger Doyle, Camille O’Sullivan, Mary Coughlan, and Paul Brady. He has written scores for more than seventy pieces of theatre and dance, and performed as an actor in Rough for Theatre I by Samuel Beckett (Dublin Fringe Festival, 2013; Tokyo, 2014; and The Barbican, London, 2015).
About the Dorothy Parker Society
The Dorothy Parker Society was founded in 1999. The Mission of the Society:
- To promote the work of Dorothy Parker;
- To introduce new readers to the work of Dorothy Parker;
- To expand the fan base of Dorothy Parker;
- To have as much fun as possible;
- To take part in service projects in the spirit of Dorothy Parker.
The Dorothy Parker Society has decided to be non-academic, although sharing the work of Parker scholars is encouraged. The Society does not have meetings, we have parties. In New York we have a monthly party the last Saturday night of the month, January to October, co-sponsored with Wit’s End.
There are no dues, membership fees or initiation ceremonies. Membership is open to the public. The Dorothy Parker Society New York has numerous activities throughout the year. There are talks, book parties, literary events, and more.
About Irish Arts Center
Irish Arts Center, founded in 1972 and based in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, is a national and international home for artists and audiences of all backgrounds who share a passion for the evolving arts and culture of contemporary Ireland and Irish America. We present, develop, promote, tour, and distribute work from established and emerging artists and cultural practitioners, providing audiences with emotionally and intellectually transporting experiences—the results of innovation, collaboration, and the authentic celebration of our common humanity.
Steeped in grassroots traditions, with a commitment to inclusion that dates back to our founding, we provide education programs and access to the arts for people of all ages and ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, and an international home for the Irish community to come together and engage with a dynamic global diaspora.
In Spring 2018, we will break ground on a landmark new permanent home, including a state of the art contemporary, flexible performance and arts space for the presentation and development of work across a range of disciplines; a second, intimate performance space—the renovated historic Irish Arts Center theatre—optimized for the most intimate live music and conversation, recordings, master classes and special events; classrooms and studio spaces for community education programs in Irish music, dance, language, history, and the humanities; technology to stream and distribute the Irish Arts Center experience on the digital platform; a spacious and vibrant avenue-facing café lobby that will be a hospitable hub for conversation and interaction between artists and audiences; and a beautiful new courtyard entrance on 51st Street where the historic Irish Arts Center building and the new facility meet.