1812 Productions’ JillineFest, celebrating 10 years of the Jilline Ringle Solo Performance Program

Caroline Dooner's Possible Memoir Titles (& Songs) chases a momster

On Thursday evening I attended one show in the six-day JillineFest, a festival of solo performances by women celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Jilline Ringle Solo Performance Program. 

No "your momma" jokes for Caroline Dooner, but plenty for her momma. (Photo by John Flak)

Her reputation precedes her

Allow me the pleasure of introducing you to Philly’s self-proclaimed “Six Foot Redhead Amazon From Hell Whom All Men Desire.” Ringle became active in Philly’s theatre community after graduating from Bryn Mawr College in 1986.  She was well known in our city, Pittsburgh and Cape May, where she performed each summer at the Chalfonte Hotel.  Her generosity in every way — time, money, talent, consultations with and support of other artists — became legendary.

Although featured in many area productions, her height made her difficult to cast.  Rather than give up performing, she developed “concept cabarets” by selecting a unifying theme, which she supported with comedy, storytelling and singing. Ringle’s best-known creation was Mondo Mangia, an intro to her Italian-American family, performed as she cooked a pasta dinner, which she served to her audience.

She was nominated for three Barrymore awards, and CityPaper named her “Philly’s Coolest Actress." 

However, she was also battling breast cancer, and in 2005, the disease, which had been in remission, returned. Before her death at 39, she expressed her wish that a fund for solo performers be developed in her name at her beloved artistic home, 1812 Productions.  

Mommy issues

The performance I attended was Caroline Dooner’s Possible Memoir Titles (& Songs). Dooner is the blogger, podcaster, and diet coach of The Fuck It Diet, each iteration of which can be found on her website

Dooner performed with ukulele in hand, because, she said, “some titles can only be expressed in song.” She shared her own memoir titles — some provided by audience members during her past two years of performing. Others were provided by some in our audience seated on the stage, who were asked to write the names of their own memoirs on a small card.  

However, Dooner let us know in the program and through continuous references that her “title is bound to end up being This Book is All About My Mom.” Her performance concentrated on unfinished business with that dominating, constant presence in her life.

Therefore, though the performance was solo, two others, although invisible, were onstage with Dooner. One was Ringle, mentor, muse, inspiration; the other, in stark contrast, was Dooner’s mother, against whom the artist seems in constant rebellion. For instance, her mom is consumed with helping her daughter find a man; it must drive her nuts that on Facebook, Dooner describes herself as a man. 

Titles reflecting aspects of the unfinished business in this relationship ranged from “Honest Bullshit, “ “Might Be a Nurse,” “Leave Me Alone at Night,” “Incredibly Insecure,” and “You Don’t Have to Be Anything Today.” There was strong concentration on her innumerable diets. Also, she sang  “I Hope You Are Happy; I’m Happier Than You” to a former lover.  Her “only love song,” with many verses, was about cheese and titled “I Have No Apologies about Cheating.” You see, her mom had convinced her she was lactose intolerant, but she is not.

Letting go is hard

During the audience participation part of her performance, Dooner circulated among the spectators as they shared their own memoir titles and life philosophies.  Some of those included “My Tits are Freezing,” from a generous woman who poses for artist renditions, and comments by a woman (whose husband pretended he did not know her) that she was lucky to be childless (perhaps after considering Dooner's mother-daughter dynamic) and free to travel.

Dooner is earthy, earnest, sincere, creative, and adorably (she’ll hate this adverb) awkward.  She knows how to pull in an audience. At times her eyes became so large with desire and hope my eyes misted, for she seemed to be in search of herself, and asking her audience to help.

When Dooner can let mommy go, her own talents will shine. Sure, Jilline Ringle cooked like her mother, but she created her own food. I suggest “Becoming My Glorious Self” as the title for Dooner’s memoir. She deserves it. 

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