Arts & Entertainment

Westfield Native Jessica St. Clair Talks About Her Hit Show, Playing House, and Hometown Inspiration

Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair (Maggie and Emma of USA Network's Playing House) Credits: USA Network
Jessica St. Clair with childhood friend Kelly Feeney during their college years.

WESTFIELD, NJ — Jessica St. Clair, co-star/creator of USA Network comedy Playing House, hasn’t forgotten about her home town, Westfield. In fact, she weaves memories of growing up here into the hit show.

Playing House was created by real life besties St. Clair and Lennon Parham, who met while studying improv comedy at the renowned Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York.

The show follows two best friends, Emma and Maggie, who reconnect in their small childhood town of Pinebrook, CT. While Emma is visiting Pinebrook for Maggie’s baby shower, the two discover that Maggie’s husband is cheating on her. Emma decides to leave her high level position in China to help newly single Maggie raise her soon-to-be-born baby. Laverne and Shirley-type escapades ensue.

Sign Up for E-News

St. Clair, who graduated Westfield High School in 1994, has fond memories of growing up in Westfield and weaves them into the storyline in unique, and sometimes specific, ways.

The fictional town of Pinebrook is a lot like Westfield, she explained.

“It’s a small East Coast town where everyone knows each other,” she said.

“In one of the episodes, ‘Drumline,’ we break into the Pinebrook JCC pool,” said St. Clair, who then revealed, “We used to hop the fence and go swimming in the middle of the night senior year at the Shackamaxon Country Club.”

She sneaks Westfield into the show other ways, too, like when she drops in people's last names.

St. Clair has been named by Variety magazine as one of the 10 Comics to Watch. In addition to Playing House, has appeared in such movies as Bridesmaids, Enough Said and She’s Out of My League. But her theatrical roots were planted here in Westfield. Her first acting stint was a musical titled Logger’s Lament at Roosevelt School.

“I did a musical every year and played sports every year,” said St. Clair. 

She remembers one teacher who encouraged her from a young age.

“Drude Roessler, who happens to be the mother-in-law of USA Network President Chris McCumber, grew up in Westfield. She was my choir teacher,” said St. Clair. "My first production was written by Drude."

Other teachers who she said inspired her were advanced learning teacher Annesly Swicker, English teacher  Paula Roy and French teacher Madame Didier, who fueled St. Clair’s lifelong obsession with France, “which emptied my credit card every year.”

St. Clair’s character on Playing House is based on herself.

“One hundred percent pretty much just me,” she said. “People from my high school might be surprised that I’m a comedian. Back then I was just trying to fit in. I would keep some of my humor to myself. It wasn’t until college that I came into my own and became a comedian.”

When she met her “family” at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, St. Clair’s career started taking off, she said.

“Nobody that I knew was in show business,” said St. Clair. “I majored in drama and did improv comedy at Middlebury College, then lived at home my first year out of college and worked at CNN and at night would intern at the Upright Citizens Brigade, basically cleaning their bathrooms. Basically everybody from Playing House is from the Upright Citizens Brigade. Lennon I met from New York. The philosophy of Upright Citizens Brigade is to keep it in the family.”

She compared UCB to grad school, “if grad school was late night at bars, cleaning toilets and learning how to be a comedian.”

There, she met Amy Poehlor, a “kick-ass comedian who is fearless and also really nice. The second I was at the theater, I felt like a fish out of water. She came up to me and said, ‘Oh, hi, I’m Amy, I just wanted to thank you for helping out.’ Not only is she a fearless comedian but she also keeps it classy,” said St. Clair.

These days, St. Clair lives in Santa Monica, CA, with her husband, playwright Dan O’Brien, and eight-month-old daughter, Isobel Kelly O’Brien. She holds Westfield very dear to her heart.

“I miss [Westfield] very much. I wish I could raise my kids there,” said St. Clair. “I miss Mindowaskin Park. Walking around the downtown. Halloween – going trick or treating with that small town feeling. Going to The Brown Cow for ice cream. Feeding animal crackers to the Doberman in front of the shoe repair place. Playing sports there. Sledding at Galloping Hill and Echo Park.”

And, she added, “I especially miss the friendships that I made. My best friend, Brandi Kovac – her mom was the gymnastics coach at Westfield high school. We’ll end up in a Golden Girls situation,” she said.

When writing the show with Parham, St. Clair loosely based the story on her childhood friend who died from Leukemia in 2012.

“My childhood best friend, Kelly Feeney, a food writer for The New York Times, passed away and this show is a tribute to her in some way. She died of Leukemia about a year and a half ago. Her mother is like my second mother. This show is based on my real life friendship with Lennon, but the fact that it’s about childhood best friends, in a small town…it’s the fantasy of living in the town that you have such fond memories of and the devotion that you have to your lifelong friends,” said St. Clair.

The season finale aired Tuesday night on USA, but you can catch up on full episodes by clicking here.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News

Westfield

Union County College Announces College for Teens Program

April 29, 2017

CRANFORD, NJ – Union County College has announced a summer College for Teens program, sponsored by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

The program will offer students the chance to explore career options in criminal justice, healthcare or supply chain management. Any student who is enrolled in a county high school for 2017 and has a grade point average of C or better will be ...

Councilman Loughlin Seeks Input on Downtown Westfield

April 27, 2017

Dear Westfield Residents:

Mayor Skibitsky's Downtown Task Force has now presented its initial report and recommendations for improving our award winning downtown.  A copy of the report is available on the town's website at westfieldnj.gov.  I encourage all residents to contact me with any suggestions about our downtown.

As chairman of the Westfield Public Safety, ...

Upcoming Events

Sun, April 30, 12:00 PM

westfield

AP Chemistry Boot Camp

Education

Sun, April 30, 12:00 PM

westfield

SAT Prep

Education

Sun, April 30, 12:00 PM

westfield

AP Biology Boot Camp

Education

Obituaries

- Apr 11, 2017
Allen Chin, 80, former Mayor and Councilman of Westfield, NJ passed away peacefully on Tuesday, ...
Read more

Westfield Police Blotter: Man Arrested in Connection with Burglaries & More

April 26, 2017

April 12, 2017 9 p.m.

On April 12, 2017, members of the Westfield Police Department Detective bureau and crime response team unit arrested Jon Rincom of Roselle in connection with several burglaries. Rincom was charged with two counts of third degree burglary. Rincom was transported to Union County Jail.

April 20, 2017 7:17 p.m.

Tashawn Beckford, age 20, of Newark, NJ, was ...

Wardlaw-Hartridge Students Rethink Disposable

April 30, 2017

Students at The Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison received recognition with awards for the Rethink Disposable posters they created for the Clean Water Action contest.

Congratulations to Zara Zaidi of Edison, Maria Guseva of Staten Island, Phoebe Kaplan of Scotch Plains, Hannah Malko of Clark, Naomi Valcourt of South Plainfield, Ruhee Hegde of Edison and Akhila Mantri of Edison.

Dog Lost in Scotch Plains

Ariel was lost around Mountain Avenue in Scotch Plains Sunday. She is microchipped and has her owner's information on her collar.

If you spot her, call 908-507-1916 or 908-377-6387.

Small Business Week Resources for New Jersey’s Entrepreneurs

April 28, 2017

More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and small businesses create approximately two thirds of the country’s new private-sector jobs. At the same time, over half of new businesses face significant and unique challenges within the first five years.

National Small Business Week, which takes place from April 30-May 6, celebrates the impact of entrepreneurs and ...

New Supervisor of World Languages Appointed in Westfield

On April 25, the Westfield Board of Education unanimously appointed Enrique Pincay as Supervisor of World Languages and ELL (English Language Learners), effective August 1, 2017.  Mr. Pincay currently holds that position in the Hillsborough Township Public Schools, a school district with nine schools and 7,500 students. 

His new responsibilities will include establishing ...

Feelin' Hot, Hot, Hot

The real estate market is heating up! Homes are selling quickly in the entry-level price points and things are moving in the luxury market as well. According to NJ real estate valuation expert Jeff Otteau, "For the first time in a decade, we're seeing an increase in demand for houses in the $1M to $2.5M price range ... this is a significant change."

Multiple ...

Westfield Area YMCA Takes Action to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the Westfield Area YMCA is designating a week to raise awareness and understanding of child sexual abuse.   From April 24-28 leading up to Healthy Kids Day on April 29, the Westfield Area YMCA is joining YMCAs across the nation to inform the community on how to recognize, prevent and report child sexual abuse. This ...

What You Need to Know if You Ride NJ Transit Trains

April 27, 2017

NJ — If you ride the train from Westfield into New York, Amtrak is instituting changes that are going to impact your NJ Transit commute. Officials have announced plans to fast-track infrastructure work that will likely cause commuters additional delays. 

In an April 27 release, Amtrak outlined initiatives to improve New York Penn Station that will require ...