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Review: DINGLEBERRIES at Interrobang Theatre Project

The production is the world premiere of the new play from Susan Chenet.

There's a lot of vulnerability that comes with creating art. In the theatre, it can be said that it's the playwright who is the most vulnerable player. It is their words, their ideas, and their voice that are the heart of a production. When entrusting a creative team to bring their work to life, the hope is that they will do it justice. But that's not always the case. In Interrobang Theatre Project's DINGLEBERRIES, playwright Jonie James (Laura Berner Taylor) learns that lesson the hard way.Review: DINGLEBERRIES at Interrobang Theatre Project

Jonie, a middle school teacher, is in the midst of having her avant-garde debut play produced by a regional theatre. As rehearsals are underway, she receives an urgent Zoom call during her planning period from artistic director, Phil (Charles McNeely III). He tells Jonie that the director, Jay, (Matthew Martinez Hannon) has made some changes. She points out that it's in her contact that any changes must have her permission. When Jonie finally speaks with Jay, he presents his updates with dramatic flair, much to the playwright's dismay and disapproval.

While trying to voice her concerns with the theatre, Jonie also fields various Zoom calls and FaceTime conversations every few minutes. She talks with her significant other, Geoffrey, (Salar Ardebili), who reveals an affair. She hears from her producer, David (Aaron Spencer), who tells her the play could be on a "New York track." Another call from Michael, (also played by Ardebili), an actor in her play, recounts a tryst that he and Jonie had. When the school principal, Coach James (also played by McNeely), calls to ask her not to talk about sex in her class, Jonie has to explain how she was simply discussing Lysistrata. Review: DINGLEBERRIES at Interrobang Theatre Project

Near the end, we jump ahead a year, and see a much brighter and lighter Jonie. She is talking with two members of the play committee that selected her first play. Their conversation reveals the outcome of the production that seemed to be going off the rails. And they know a few too many details about Jonie's personal life.

DINGLEBERRIES playwright, Susan Chenet, has based this dark comedy on actual events. She succeeds at conveying the chaos of juggling a teaching career, a relationship, and producing a new play. And every obstacle Jonie faces is laced with misogyny. But in its brief 55 minutes, several moments get lost in the shuffle. The action unfolds so quickly, that the actors don't have anywhere to go emotionally. They start heightened and stay there. The quirky repetitive lines and misplaced outbursts stunt the pace and storytelling.

Director Georgette Verdin heightens the surrealism (that is paralleled via the description of Jonie's script) but does little to ground us in any reality. Many of the performers get lost in this frenetic world, leaving us unattached to any of the characters. The usually consistent quality from Interrobang Theatre Project feels a bit off course here.

In the end, Jonie says that while writing she learned that "all we desire is not always what we need." This profound statement falls a little flat based on the journey that we just took with her. And while Jonie appears to have gained some insight throughout her process, we are left in the dark.

Interrobang Theatre Project's DINGLEBERRIES, will stream via BroadwayWorld from June 24 - July 18, 2021. Tickets ($15) are currently available at interrobangtheatreproject.org. All performances will be available on demand.


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