Excuse My Dust: Monologues of Dorothy Parker, Self Promotion, Inc., at Angel Island. Dorothy Parker is catnip to a lot of actresses--I've seen several solo shows drawn from her life and work. But adapter-performer Jen Engstrom's evening of monologues based on five Parker short stories, directed by Tim Clue, is one of the more successful. Somewhat arbitrarily set in 1925, Engstrom's note-perfect portrayals of Parker's thwarted, yearning women are timeless. And unlike some interpreters of Parker, Engstrom fearlessly captures the rage, wit, and vulnerability of the characters, who all represent some version of the writer herself. Engstrom understands that it's not their (often terribly funny) wisecracks that mark these women as dangerous--it's their unblinking insistence on the importance of sentiment in a world that sneers at such folderol.
The show is bookended by the two halves of Parker's "The Garter," a brilliant little story that cunningly makes the connection between damaged undergarments and a damaged heart. Engstrom, whose features suggest a toughened Kewpie doll, has an engaging presence, and though there's a certain sameness in tone to these monologues, she never falters in her commitment to Parker's quicksilver intensity. In one brief interlude Engstrom steps out of character to provide a few fascinating tidbits about Parker's life, but otherwise she wisely opts to let the writer's words re-create a world of false values where "jazz-mad puppets of faith" desperately search for true love.