Wit and wisdom

Jenny’s Drama Salons at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse are a refreshing find in the off-season.


Jenny Allen has a permanent grin you can see in her eyes, and is surrounded by a gleeful conspiratorial aura that says, You get it, right?” If you don’t, hang out with Jenny for a bit and you will. You can do so at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse’s next three once-a-month Jenny’s Drama Salons.

MJ Bruder Munafo, artistic and executive director of the Playhouse, came up with the idea for fun with Jenny, hence the Salon was born. “MJ is very resourceful and committed to having the theater open all year-round,” Allen says. “When she approached me with this idea, I couldn’t think of a reason not to do it. Still can’t, so I’m still doing it.”

Allen’s goal is to present one version of a perfect way to spend an off-season evening. The salons are held in the charming theater lobby — which includes a refreshment bar, box office, and rotating art exhibits — with guests seated at tables. For the salons, Allen tries to think of things people can participate in and learn a little something from, and be able to goof off with friends at the same time. “The night should be a little bit party, loose, fun, with a homemade feel to help see us through the winter,” Allen says. “We make our own fun here. Plus, we have pie.” She’s honored that one person comes just for dessert, which Allen bakes, and she always makes enough for seconds.

At the January salon, a rowdy, essentially disobedient group filled the lobby for the second annual Theater Trivia Night. Allen, generously partnered with Mona Hennessey, hosted the game, with questions about Shakespeare, Broadway, and more. Allen adjusted her expectations of participant expertise from the previous year, based on the comment by Anna Yukevich, who, after attending the 2018 event, said “Jenny, try and make it more like a game and less like a test.” The winners of the 2019 evening might agree that Allen has done so, but the losers may have a different opinion.

Past salons have included Shakespeare charades, disastrous dinners in American drama, Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, ghost stories, and a Garson Kanin tribute. The next salon is Saturday, Feb. 16, with plans for a March and an April evening to follow. The activities for those nights are still up for grabs. Allen, who is nothing if not whimsical in her programming, always thinks participation, literary- or theater-related topics, and Island-themed events. Possible ideas for the rest of this season include Shearer Summer Theatre history, great jokes and how to tell them, a Dorothy Parker evening, or a Tennessee Williams birthday bash, with Key lime pie, of course. Allen is open to suggestions, but says with slight dismay, “The ball is in my court.” See, funny.

In case you are unfamiliar with this crazy gal’s background, Allen is a popular essayist, writing about life, and able to see the funny side of most things. She can infuse thigh-slapping humor, incisive irony, or poignant observations, often all three in the same piece, using humor to open the door to deeper thought. There’s a laugh and there’s a point. You can read her work in all sorts of places, and here are a couple, three, good places to start: her collection of essays, “Would Everybody Please Stop? Reflections on Life and Other Bad Ideas,” her story in “The Moth: 50 True Stories,” which made the New York Times bestseller list, and her frequent essays in the New Yorker. Allen is an actress too, and will be playing Bernie Madoff’s secretary in the upcoming production of “Imagining Madoff,” by playwright Deb Margolin in New York City. Again, not funny, but I bet she’ll be funny in it.

Allen tries to write every day, and keeps lists of ideas, 90 percent of which, she claims, go nowhere. At times she wonders where the funny went, but keeps going back, rewriting and fretting, eventually getting a laugh, presumably out of herself. You can expect musings on subjects as wildly diverse as cancer to raising a teenager to pie. She believes she could write a novel about how many drafts she wrote about her Swiffer, the popular household broom which “revolutionizes the way you clean.” She found herself cogitating “six ways from Sunday,” including writing as Swiffer in the first person, and a fictionalized letter to Swiffer headquarters. She eventually extracted, “out of the cotton that is my brain,” a New Yorker poem titled “Poetry for Modern Mindfulness: Swiffering my floor, I offer thanks to the Procter & Gamble company.”

Jenny Allen is perfectly typecast as herself, a thinker, a wit, and a pal. And that’s a good thing. Jenny’s Drama Salons, which cost $10, fit in nicely with other Playhouse off-season regular events, including Monday Night Movies, Poetry Café, Shakespeare for the Masses, Spring Solo Shows and Wicked Good Musical Revue. Information about all of these events is at mvplayhouse.org, or call the Playhouse at 508-696-6300.