This is the question that Jennifer Berry‘s new play After, all poses to audiences as the award-winning playwright and director explores the “power, passion, and persuasion of unlikely female friendships.”
We had a chance to speak with Ms. Berry about her work and her process, and whatever else came to mind…
HP: You have written a play about a pharmaceutical company (BIG Pharma), a psychological thriller (Permanently Missing), and kids determining that adulthood is not for them (Be). Can you pinpoint or generalize how you come up with your storylines?
JB: I can’t really pinpoint where my play ideas come from. Each play is like giving birth to a child. They are all so different. Big Pharma started out with my rage at the drug companies for targeting my generation of women (Generation X) with direct marketing campaigns for antidepressants. Permanently Missing started out with a question of what would you do if your husband suddenly vanished? And Ojalá was a story based on my relationship with my Mexican Nanny who took care of me from birth to age nine. I will say that all of my plays start with a woman protagonist and have themes of unlikely friendships. I like to create heroines for our time.
HP: Was After, all written once you were in your forties and reflecting, having experienced friendships over decades and seen the trails of a friends’ life (including one’s own)?
JB: Friendship is the only relationship that isn’t tied by family, money, or property. The only commitment is that two people keep liking and wanting each other. That is why I find friendships, especially among women, the most fascinating. I created a play where companionship, rebirth, and art get tangled up in women’s survival. Many people come to L.A. as transplants, leaving old friends behind in search of something or in an attempt to reinvent themselves. So I’ve tried to create work that exposes the fragile bonds that form here. Friendship is complicated. It is never just about the relationship, but what also surrounds it and why the friendship is formed in the first place.
HP: Do you write with a question in mind or a thought that you want to mull over, or do you already know your opinion on the play’s subject and know on which journey you want to take your audience?
JB: I never know how my plays will end or what I will discover. That is part of the fun. I love listening to the characters and taking a journey with them. Regarding the audience, I never think about that. If one hundred people see my play, there will one hundred different reactions. Some people will resonate with it, some people won’t. But what I love is bringing a community of people together around a live event. Theater is live! When something happens on stage, there is a collective gasp or laugh or tear. It’s beautiful! Theater reminds me that we feel things the most deeply when we are in the presence of a collective group.
HP: When did you write After, all? Are there particular challenges or payoffs to directing this play in comparison to your other plays? Did you choose to stage this play at this point for a particular reason?
JB: After, all is probably my most personal play. I wrote it shortly after giving birth to twins. Everyone said I wouldn’t write while I was tending to newborns but in between nursing breaks these two characters of Marsha and Sue started talking to me. So I would get up and nurse my babies, write, and then go back to sleep. It almost felt as if the play wrote itself. Because of all the emotions I felt as a new mother, I had a well of creativity that wasn’t open to me before I became a parent. Then something unexpected happened. My very close friend, the actress for whom I was writing the play, died suddenly. So I was holding birth in one hand and death in the other. I started to really question what it meant to be living inside of time, the here and now, and how to live each moment fully. And again, the play revolves around the unlikely friendship between two very different women with entirely different perspectives on life, motherhood, creativity, and ultimately, death.
HP: You are a Los Angeles resident, correct? Do you know Pasadena? If so, are there any places you like to hang out, walk around, visit, or shop? Where you like to eat and drink?
JB: Not only am I a Los Angeles resident, I am a proud native. And I only write about Los Angeles women. Los Angeles is the boldest, most hopeful city in the world. Everything is here! I went to Pacific Oaks and Westridge School in Pasadena so I know Pasadena well. It has changed so much since I was kid. I love the changes.
I can tell you my ideal Pasadena day. An early morning hike in the Arroyo with my twins and husband. I then love to meet friends at Chado Tea House on Raymond Avenue and have one of their amazing teas and treats. Then I usually head over to Jenette Bra’s on Holly Street; she has the best lingerie selection for curvy women. Then I like to head over to Elisa B and check out what she carries. Her stuff is always so unique and I’m a bit of a clothes horse. I always make a stop at Vroman’s. I’ve been going there since I was a kid and never leave empty-handed. To finish up the day, I meet my husband for a romantic dinner at Racion on Green Street. I lived in Madrid and find Racion’s food and wine to parallel what I enjoyed in Spain. Finally, I love the Pasadena Playhouse where I can catch a great play at The Main Stage Playhouse or The Carrie Hamilton Theater. I also love the Boston Court Theater. And to finish off the night, hearing great Jazz at Red, White and Bluezz is wonderful. There is no place like Pasadena!
Friday & Saturdays, through March 16th, 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 & 7 p.m.
Pasadena Playhouse, Carrie Hamilton Theater
For complete info, visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org or call 626.356.7529