The promise of Vitriol and Violets is that it will evoke the storied period when the finest wits of the 1920s (including Dorothy Parker and New Yorker founder Harold Ross) met daily for lunch at New York's Algonquin Hotel to trade their bonnest mots and generally bask in their own fabulousness. The reality of Vitriol and Violets is that cleverness has an expiration date, and the oft-repeated one-liners that the script confuses for devastating banter have lost the power to impress, much less charm. When the inimitable Parker first observed that she'd rather have a bottle in front of her than a frontal lobotomy, she no doubt got snaps all 'round—but these days, the line is the sole purview of beer-stained T-shirts and unwelcome bar humor, synonymous not with cleverness or self-awareness but a distinct lack of both. Context matters, though this play earnestly asks us to pretend it doesn't.
The show's construction takes the Algonquin's lunch table as its center, and branches out to encompass episodes from the characters' personal and professional lives. An Italian waiter, Luigi, serves as a sort of emcee, introducing us to the journalists, critics, and authors who lunch there. There are songs. There are flapper costumes. There is gin, from a bathtub. There is a cause du jour (the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti), laboriously contrasted with the frivolous lives of our friends at the Algonquin. It's all very literary.
Vitriol and Violets is running in conjunction with the Fertile Ground theater festival, though it is not, strictly speaking, a new work: It premiered in 2002. Technically this is a new adaptation, with songs by jazz composer Dave Frishberg—but it certainly does not seem new. It seems like a museum piece. Which is fine, for a certain segment of the population, a segment I am now going to feel free to gently mock because I'm fairly certain they don't read this newspaper: If your only other option on a Saturday night is reorganizing your pill box while hoping your grandchildren might call (they won't!), then I can in all sincerity recommend this production. If your interest in the show was spurred by its inclusion in the Fertile Ground festival and a desire to see innovative new work, look elsewhere. ALISON HALLETT