In Part 2 of a series of interviews with the cast of Greenbelt Arts Center’s Dinner with Friends, meet Jenna Jones Paradis.
Joel: Please tell our readers where they may have seen your work on our local stages. Who did you play in these productions?
Jenna: I played a “Lady in Waiting” in Prince George’s Little Theatre’s (PGLT) Once Upon a Mattress in September, 2015, but really it was just an excuse to get onstage with lots of friends. I was actually the producer for the show, and I have produced four other plays with PGLT since 2007, so I’ve been behind the scenes in recent years. Greenbelt Arts Center (GAC) was my home base theater company from 2006-2009, where I performed in Amadeus, Chapter Two, The Octette Bridge Club, and Dearly Departed.
What made you want to be a cast member of Dinner with Friends?
THE SCRIPT. When I read it, the dialogue between the characters rang so true. I survived my own divorce in 2005, and our joint friendships changed, morphed, some ended. The playwright, Donald Margulies, really captures the flaws of all four characters in an intriguing way, very gradually. There are “a-ha” moments throughout the script. I liked that things aren’t all what they seemed.
Not surprisingly, this play won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000, and it still maintains its relevancy 16 years later. It is “modern day.”
Also, Bob Kleinberg, our director, was a fun cast mate in two of the GAC shows I did, and has since focused more on directing. In the last few years, I’ve come back to GAC to see the shows he directed, and always found them to be powerful pieces. He’s very good with intense dramas, so it was appealing to get to work with him as a director. Since he was so likeable backstage, I knew I would have a good time being in this play! It brought me back to GAC.
What is the show about from the point of view of your character?
Beth’s story is about moving through a transition time, not of her own making, where she finally gets “on the right track” but not without a lot of pain and hurt. Her last scene is really important as she re-examines her friendship with Karen and comes clean about how she feels.
How do you relate to your character? What traits that you possess do you see in your character and what traits that your character has do you wish you possessed?
Well, I certainly am a “ditz” (I marvel at my klutziness, I really do!). I am not a good visual artist, but I don’t try to be…. Like Beth I can be strong-headed and not “hear” what others say, I am so busy forming my reply in my head. And I curse a lot like she does. Hahaha. Late in the play, Beth takes up a new pastime, I don’t want to give it away, but I wish I would be able to take on a whole new hobby, to free myself up the way she does, to stop doing what seems so insignificant to me. It’s easy to get stuck in the same old routines, not be adventurous, I do like that about Beth and I hope she rubs off on me a little in that regard.
How can audiences relate to the messages and themes and characters in the show?
Oh gosh, this show is for anyone who has been in a long marriage, people who have kids, people who have gone through a divorce. People who find new lovers. Come see the show and you will notice there’s a lot of discussion about lack of communication, not talking about stuff, not listening, not “hearing” the others. I think many of us struggle with talking with our partners about the heart of the matter – whatever it may be. These scenes capture the situations in a very realistic way.
What challenges have you had learning and molding your performance? How did your director Bob Kleinberg help you to fine-tune your performance?
The opening scene is one where I’ve had to pull back and not seem as interested in what Karen and Gabe are talking about. I have a whole long string of one syllable replies, and it is easy to fall into seeming curious about the topic at hand. Bob has been really good at seeing how I need to adjust my reactions. His emailed notes about the previous night’s rehearsal were always helpful because I trust his direction and want to mold Beth in the vision he has for the play.
What have you learned about yourself-the actor-while going through the audition and rehearsal process?
It’s harder to memorize lines than it first appears! I don’t know if it is because I’ve gone six years without being in a play, but that has been one challenge. I developed about six different ways of drilling my lines; I just think it is so important as an actor not to paraphrase what the playwright wrote. I picture him toiling away at the script, making deliberate choices of adjectives or punctuation marks, and I want to honor that work and not mess it up. That process of getting solid on the lines took more time and attention than I first thought it would. I’ve learned I need to focus on the lines every single time I am commuting on the metro to and from work. I’ve layed off the Facebook in these recent days! Hopefully all those hours of reviewing my lines will pay off. Keep your fingers crossed for me, ok?
If you could write another ending for your character, what would it be?
Oh gee! I don’t want to pick another ending, because then you will know what the play’s conclusion WON’T be! The cast has talked offstage about what we think happens to Karen, Gabe, Tom and Beth after the play ends. Those were some interesting insights and choices. Let’s just say, that my own personal ending for Beth is that everything she’s excited about ends up not coming true. Because that’s really how life is sometimes, right? There’s the euphoric fantasy that you see for yourself, and then there’s the reality that eventually plays out. “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” (Mark Twain?) So let’s just say, in Beth’s last scene she has all these new plans and a lot of conviction about them, and if she had another scene after that, I think she’d be coming to terms with the messiness of her life.
What’s next for you on the stage?
I’m very excited about being a first-time producer with GAC for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee next March! I’ve long wanted to work with its director, Jeff Lesniak. He does some really fun quirky musicals, cult classics, and I think he will get a top notch cast of musical theater performers and it will be very entertaining. I also want to give a shout out to Malca Giblin, the producer for Dinner with Friends, because she is a very experienced producer, not only at GAC, and I feel reassured that she will give me good advice on how to help get this production together and promote it well.
What do you want the audience to take with them after seeing Dinner with Friends?
I hope as they leave the lobby they will recognize these two couples in varying degrees of either themselves of their own dear friends. I hope they take home that although adult friendships are subject to change, and life events can greatly impact them, friendships are really important to treasure, to nurture, to work through when things get tough. We all need friends, yes? And the ones that have known us from “back in the day,” when we were young enough to still be trying to figure out who we are and what life has in mind for us, are friendships that are worth saving.
Meet the Cast of ‘Dinner with Friends’ at Greenbelt Arts Center: Part 1: Director Bob Kleinberg.