Dingleberries

Salar Ardebili and Laura Berner Taylor in Interrobang TheatreProject’s streaming world premiere of "Dingleberries." 

The virtual world premiere of Susan Chenet's “Dingleberries” is subtitled “a crappy comedy based on real events,” but the satirical one-act also could be called “the playwright's best revenge.”

Contacted by Interrobang Theatre Project to write something for its eleventh season, all-digital due to the pandemic, Chenet has come up with a 55-minute feast of frustration that cleverly skewers all the misguided men in her put-upon playwright-heroine's little world.

As it did with “The Spin,” Interrobang displays an impressive command of the ins and outs of the internet in bringing the show to life as a mixture of Facetime calls and Zoom meetings. Credit goes to the first-rate cast and director Georgette Verdin, the theater's managing artistic director, as well as to video editor Megan Love, costume designer LaVisa Angela Williams, production manager Richie Vavrina and stage manager Shawn Galligan.

In a “Broadway World” interview, Chenet explained that the real incident occurred when she was an MFA playwrighting student, but the main character in “Dingleberries” is a 30-year-old middle school theater teacher named Jonie James (Laura Berner Taylor), who is on the cusp of success when her new surrealist play is selected for its debut by a regional theater company. She can't attend rehearsals, apparently due to COVID-19, but all seems to be going well until the week before previews when she gets an unsettling video call from the company's artistic director, Phil (Charles McNeely III).

He wants to tell her about a few little insignificant changes the director, Jay (Matthew Martinez Hannon), who prefers “Dr. J,” has made to her script. But when she hears that a key character, a transit officer, has been changed from a man to a woman, and a big-busted one at that, she lets Phil know in no uncertain terms that the change is not okay with her and that her contract gives her the right to approve all changes. Furthermore, she is disappointed that Phil hasn't protected her interests as he's supposed to.

Jonie is on her lesson-planning break at the time, and even before Phil's call, she has to contend with her inconsiderate, self-absorbed boyfriend, Geoffrey (Salar Ardebili), who asks her to drive an hour each way to pick up Cuban food for dinner. Then there's Michael (also Ardebili), an actor who has been in several plays with Jonie and is obsessed with getting her to admit she loved their brief fling, even as she is trying to find out from him what other changes have been made to her play.

Jonie is increasingly frustrated in her quest for this information. Phil tries to sidestep her questions, gets drunk and pulls a mea culpa about being weak. David (Aaron Spencer), the theater's producing director, keeps telling her everything is “Awe-some” and that the play is on a New York track. Meanwhile her boss at school, Coach Jones (McNeely III), calls because he's gotten complaints from parents about sex talk in her class, and she has to explain that she was teaching Aristophanes' “Lysistrata,” which goes completely over his sports-loving head.

Jonie's anger and anguish peak when she demands to speak with Jay, who sees himself as an “auteur” with every right to change any elements in the work he wants. He treats her to the erotic dance he's dreamed up for his female transit worker and gradually reveals other massive changes to Jonie's script, ranging from scenes being dropped and added to the substitution of a Barbie doll for a gun, the play's most important prop.

Her contract violated (to say the least), Jonie threatens to pull the play from production. Fast forward a year, and Jonie is in a Zoom meeting with Buddy (Spencer) and Bob (Hannon), who are on the annual play competition's selection committee. She's submitted a new play this year and, behaving a bit like naughty school boys, they've called her in “on the down low” to discuss it. They say they loved her previous year's avant-garde work and miss what Buddy in particular calls “her voice” in this one. She says she wanted to do something different and explains that this is based on the true story of the first woman doctor and is set in the 19th century. They come to an impasse, as Buddy hammers his point home, Bob seems more preoccupied with munching his lunch and Jonie, looking calm and composed compared to the previous year, smiles enigmatically and drifts into another realm.

While the satire is very broad, the characters are one-dimensional (except for Jonie) and the dialogue becomes repetitive, “Dingleberries” makes a serious point in a light-hearted way. At first, I found the doubling of the male characters confusing, but then I realized that the two men portrayed by each actor are different sides of the same coin in the ways they try to flatter, belittle, underestimate and otherwise verbally abuse the sole woman. Chenet is a smart, funny writer, and I look forward to more from her.

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