Jennie Berman Eng’s new play, Whenever You’re Near Me I Feel Sick, debuts September 17, 2015 at the Trinidad Theatre in Washington, DC. She is a 2014 and 2016 Theater J Locally Grown Playwright. Recent plays include Don Q, adapted from Don Quixote for young audiences, commissioned by University of Colorado-Boulder, Bethesda (Capital Fringe 2014), Spectacular Women (In Their Natural Habitat) at Theater J, H is for Holy (Intersections Festival, Atlas Performing Arts Center), A Family of Lobsters (LiveArt DC’s Play in A Day), Exit Carolyn at The Drilling Company in New York, and Cherry (Naked Angels’ First Monday reading series, New York.) Jennie was a founding member, performer and head writer for the all-girl comedy group, The Greasy Girlz, which toured New York and Los Angeles. She is a Teaching Artist for Young Playwrights Theater, Ford’s Theatre, and WritopiaLab in Washington, D.C., and received the Vittum Prize for Short Plays 2013. MFA, The New School for Drama. Member, The Dramatists Guild. Jennie lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, Chris, and the two cutest kids on the planet, Lily and Jasper.Follow her on Twitter: @JennieBermanEng or facebook: facebook.com/thelmatheatre
Why are you a playwright?
The most interesting thing to me is– why do people say the things they say? And, what do people really want to say vs. what they actually say? These are the questions I consider every time I sit down to write. I come from a family of talkers, so when people are quiet it’s troublesome to me. Experiencing a play you’ve written being performed live, with live people reacting to it before your eyes is the most exciting experience I’ve ever had. There is no adrenaline-inducing, X-games sport or bungee jump drop that exhilarates like live theater does for me. A play is alive, and on a good day, when the audience is with the playwright and the actors and the director and they’re riding the story out together, going through it together, it is a togetherness that is hard to find in today’s society.
What type of theatre most excites you?
I’m excited when something occurs on stage that I hadn’t before considered possible. Sometimes it’s a reimagining of convention, like in Aaron Posner’s Stupid F-ing Bird. Sometimes it’s spectacle, like in Slava’s Snowshow, a commedia-like experience where the audience is blasted with snow and experiences a blizzard live. I’m also excited by being made to feel uncomfortable, in whatever ways the playwright and director conceive.
WOMEN’S VOICES THEATER FESTIVAL
WHENEVER YOU’RE NEAR ME I FEEL SICK
September 17 – October 4, 2015
at Trinidad Theatre
1358 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002
Details and Tickets
What starts a play moving in your imagination?
I almost always start with a question that is troubling me either in my personal life or in the news/politics. Almost always, though, those two things are one and the same, and I’m moved to write because I don’t know how else to speak up or to take action. I work out the issue as I write, and my position or feelings become clear to me. So, yes, playwriting is therapy, but for me it’s also activism.
Do you have a favorite writing place?
I have small kids so writing is something I have to squeeze in late at night, early in the morning before they wake up or in bits and spurts on the Metro. I write at my kitchen table, looking out at the trees and sweating profusely because the seat cushions are made of vinyl.
How did you choose this play to debut at the Festival?
I know the festival will be filled with strong female protagonists who know their minds and are brave and decisive. And this is great! It’s important for audiences to begin to see female characters drive a play. But I wanted to show a story about a woman who doesn’t have it together, as many of us do not. Though I know where I stand politically, sometimes my own domestic role is unclear to me.
Being a mother is a full-time job, whether you work outside the home or not. If you do both then you are doubly frazzled and your time is never your own. How do you retain your identity apart from your spouse and kids? What if you do everything you’re supposed to (get married, have kids, have a career, buy a home, etc.), and you’re still not fulfilled? What if all the promises of being a successful American woman prove disatisfying? These are the questions I wanted to explore in my play Whenever You’re Near Me I Feel Sick.
Which female playwrights have influenced your writing?
The trajectory of my life has been largely influenced by Wendy Wasserstein. I saw The Heidi Chronicles when I was sixteen at the Kennedy Center, and everything I knew about plays was suddenly turned on its head. Years later, I met her at the JCC in Rockville, and she was supportive and kind and gave me great advice. I felt kindred to her and her writing style—she was a funny Jewish woman, and so was I. She was not gorgeous (like her sister Gorgeous), and neither was I. And yet, so many people cared what she had to say. That was important to me. I’m also largely influenced by Caryl Churchill and Lillian Hellman, Beth Henley, and Gina Gionfriddo.
What’s missing from theatre today?
A little bit of weird. I frequently leave a play and wish for something heightened and not naturalistic.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing a play about Mercedes Benz’s role in the Holocaust.
Answer this: “If I weren’t a playwright, I would be … ”
–sedated, in therapy.
–a bad friend
–possibly a wedding dress designer