Coming soon to Capital Fringe! Nu Sass brings our 4th Installment of our acclaimed Small Batch Audience Series this summer to Caos on F. Exit Carolyn, a tale of a friendship to withstand the bonds of life and death…if only it could withstand the mess currently growing in the sink. Nu Sass sat down with our playwright, local artist Jennie Eng, to talk about her script.
So, what’s your play all about?
Exit Carolyn is about two friends, Julie and Lorna, who are at a crossroads, not only in their friendship, but in their growth towards adulthood. Their best friend and roommate, Carolyn, died in a car accident a month ago. Julie and Lorna grieve in diverging and incompatible ways, illuminating that perhaps they have either outgrown each other, or were only friends because Carolyn united them.
Why was this a story you wanted to tell?
I wanted to write about a friendship breakup, mostly because, having gone through one, I found there was very little out there to lean on for guidance or support. There are endless troves of advice for recovery from romantic break-ups, but very little on friendship. For many women, our female friendships are emotional and social life supports. When one of those relationships goes sour, it affects everything in our lives. I wanted to focus a play on female friendship, and how big a role it plays in women’s lives.
How would you describe your style of playwriting?
My plays tend towards dark comedy, and almost always feature some element of magical realism. I almost always have a female protagonist. It’s really important to me that women are funny onstage.
What interests you most in theatre, both creating it and experiencing it?
What’s so exciting and important to me about theater is the immediate results it yields. I love to think about two people who have attended a play, riding the Metro home together, or sitting in their car going home, and invariably needing to hash out the issues and events of the play. And after that conversation…. what happens? Sometimes nothing, but sometimes it’s action. After seeing A Raisin In The Sun at Arena Stage this past year, I was so moved by Lena Younger’s speech to her daughter about loving her brother when he’s at his lowest, that I reached out to an old friend and apologized for having abandoned her in a time of need. That is real activism! Theater may not move nations towards peace accords or halt carbon emissions, but that play I saw resulted in a direct action of contrition, compassion and forgiveness.
So for me, theater is about making connections. I bring stuff to a play. You bring stuff to a play. We see the same play and we leave with different connections and understandings of the world and our place in it. I once wrote a play about a woman who went to great lengths (it was a farce) to hide her pregnancy from her husband because she didn’t want to have kids. A woman in the audience approached me afterwards and berated, “How dare you have that woman lie to her husband about having kids. She should have made that clear when they got married!” I was stunned, but I was also immediately aware that her reaction was about what was going on in her life, her relationships. Perhaps the play had communicated something she knew deep inside but couldn’t articulate. Her reaction made me feel I’d reached her, even if it made her angry. I wonder about the conversation she had on the subway home that night in New York. Whether she liked the play or not, her life was different for having seen it.
What conversation would you want to have with audiences who have seen the play?
I would want audiences to talk to me about how they might identify with every character. They’re all flawed, just as we all are, but essentially each character in this play is looking for someone who “gets” them. Each is dealing with grief alone. I would ask audiences to ask themselves, “When have you been Avery? When have you been Julie? Who gets you?”
Jennie Berman Eng is a 2017-2018 member of Playwrights Arena at Arena Stage and a 2014 and 2016 Theater J Locally Grown Playwright. Jennie’s plays have been performed in New York, DC, Colorado, and Los Angeles. Jennie is currently the Lead Teaching Artist at Ford’s Theatre, and has served as a teaching artist for Young Playwrights Theater, Writopialab-DC, and as a writing coach/mentor through Shout Mouse Press. MFA, The New School for Drama. Member, and The Dramatists Guild.