NPHS grad Douglass debuts play based in hometown

NPHS grad Douglass debuts play based in hometown

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Jean Ann Douglass, a 2001 graduate of North Providence High School, is enjoying success with her new play inspired by her hometown.

“The Providence of Neighboring Bodies,” a play with characters based in North Providence, is playing through March 11 at the Ars Nova Theater in New York.

Douglass, 33, (pictured at right), told The Breeze that her play is set in adjoining units of the International Apartments on Smithfield Road. The women on the stage represent “people whose stories don’t get told that frequently,” she said.

“In the town that I grew up in, the people that I knew were not people I was seeing on the stages of New York,” she said.

“It’s an exciting day for Dora here in North Providence, Rhode Island,” states a synopsis for the play. “Today is the day Dora is going to make coffee, go outside, and make friends with Ronnie.”

Ronnie lives in the apartment next door, so the two were meant to be friends.

“Ronnie isn’t sure how she wound up living in North Providence for all these years, with a balcony overlooking the parking lot and the weird hill across the street,” it states. “But here they both are, where nothing exciting has really happened since the great beaver purge of the mid-20th century. That is, until Jane shows up at Ronnie’s door. Maybe she’s just the distraction they need.”

Douglass said the play isn’t based on specific people as much as on what she thinks she would be like if she’d stayed and lived in North Providence instead of moving away at age 18. She said she sees herself being “equal parts” of Ronnie and Dora.

Like much of her work, Douglass loves to find the humor in everything. She said her plays provide plenty of levity while making people think.

Jean Ann’s mother, Barbara Fox, works as a math coach at Greystone Elementary School. Her father, Robert Douglass, who also lives in North Providence, runs Management Consulting Firm Viaduct Advisors LLC. She also has a brother who lives in Rhode Island.

Much of the theme for “The Providence of Neighboring Bodies” is social anxiety and the ways people interact with others. Many overthink how to interact with people, which can lead to isolation and closing themselves off to others, said Douglass. The characters here clearly aren’t great at connecting but they overcome the obstacles to do so anyway.

Viewers will hear local landmarks mentioned in the play. A significant plot point has characters trying to impress a house guest by going to Shore’s Market to buy some eggplant parmesan.

The play has won some rave reviews. A piece on timeout.com calls it “a surprising and wicked little concoction.”

Douglass’s other plays include “Due To Events,” “Ladycation,” “FISH,” “Some Editing and Some Theme Music,” and “The Backroad Homeshow.” Along with playwright husband Eric John Meyer, Douglass founded The Truck Project, a company that creates theatrical works exclusively for performance in rented box trucks. In 2015 they expanded to form Human Head Performance Group, creating work for touring in traditional theaters. Her work has been profiled in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, HowlRound.com, The Brooklyn Rail, Greenpoint Gazette, and Brooklyn Based, among other outlets.

When Douglass isn’t doing theater and art, she working as the director of culture and communications at Just Capital, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “getting corporate America to behave better on issues that matter to Americans,” as she puts it. That includes issues like justice, how workers are treated, and environmental issues.

A 2007 Tulane University graduate, Douglass said she moved to New York in 2007 to take advantage of the many opportunities the city has to offer for aspiring artists. She said the thing that excites her most about her work is having people “see themselves in a way that they hadn’t thought about before.” Sitting in the audience and hearing people laugh at the words she writes is as addicting as a drug, she said.

Those who watch her plays will hopefully walk away having had a good laugh and grown in empathy for others, she said.

Visit www.arsnovanyc.com for ticket information. Find more on the work of Douglass at www.jeananndouglass.com .

A scene from “The Providence of Neighboring Bodies,” a new play from North Providence native Jean Ann Douglass.