Theater Interview: BEKAH BRUNSTETTER, Playwright of MISS LILLY GETS BONED (West Coast Premiere by Rogue Machine at Electric Lodge in Venice)

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by Frank Arthur on September 15, 2019

in Interviews,Theater-Los Angeles


When a young Bekah Brunstetter set out to explore where she stood on issues like animal rights, faith, and even relationships, it was before she had ever learned to question what she wrote. No filters, just passion.

Sex, faith, and violence are all part of the intricate package of connections in Miss Lilly Gets Boned, an early work of Brunstetter ‘s having its west coast premiere this weekend. Helmed by one of LA’s most awarded stage directors in Los Angeles, Robin Larsen (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Lifetime Achievement Award), the play is part of Rogue Machine’s 2019/20 Season at the Electric Lodge in Venice.

Brunstetter (pictured left) started out as a playwright, and it was her theater agent who introduced her to an LA-based TV manager; eventually she was offered a job as a writer’s assistant on an MTV show. She got her first staff writer job soon after, using excerpts from some of her plays, such as The Cake which premiered at L.A.’s own Echo Theatre and went on to Manhattan Theatre Club, The Geffen, La Jolla Playhouse and beyond in its fairly short life.

The script for Miss Lilly was completed before the experiences gained from Bekah’s time as a writer on Starz Network’s American Gods, and before her gig writing for the first three seasons of NBC’s This Is Us. Perhaps that’s what adds to the strong anticipation of this new production, she says, “It’s a gift, getting to work on the play again, revisiting a younger version of myself while wrestling with some of the same questions I have in my grown up life.”

The issues are complex, the characters brutally honest, and the connections mentioned earlier are explored through the tenuous and permeable boundaries that separate our civilized side from our more animalistic one. Questions are asked and behavior examined. How does faith limit or uplift humanity? How does a captive elephant growing ever more anxious in chains become connected to a virginal Sunday school teacher who is taking a big chance by opening her heart to the dangers of love?

Ms. Brunstetter took time with Stage and Cinema to let us know a little more about her journey as a writer, and about one of her favorite works, which is about to be produced in Los Angeles.

S&C: The world premiere took place in 2010, with a great production at The New Ohio Theatre in 2012. What do you think took so long for the play to arrive in L.A?

BB: For one, the play has never been published, which I think definitely affects the number of productions. Another reason perhaps, like many playwrights, my career has been a very long, slow ascension. I never had my big hot NYC moment that often catapults writers into notoriety. I’ve had a series of medium moments. But, I think that people are more aware of my plays now because of The Cake, and perhaps because of my writing on This Is Us. So it’s really very cool now to have new eyes on my older plays!

S&C: Does your script indicate how the elephant is to be constructed, or if it may be a projection instead of a puppet? Will the elephant at Rogue Machine be similar to the one in Ohio?

BB: It just says an Elephant. Sarah Ruhl is one of my favorite playwrights, and I love how she’ll just write stage directions like “She turns into an almond” and just trusts designers and actors and a director to figure it out, however they see fit. The less specific you are, the more you run the risk of not getting exactly what you want — but also, there’s a greater chance of the magic of discovery, and that’s a risk I’m willing to take with this play. I’ve yet to see the fully constructed Rogue Machine Elephant, so not sure yet! The Ohio puppet was pretty magical, terrifying and vulnerable. Elephants are so beautiful, even in puppet form.

S&C: Do you think your play presaged the #MeToo movement? Is this new revision greatly influenced by it, and in what ways?

BB: It definitely did. I wrote it ten-ish years ago, and the way we think about violence against women is so different, now. Sharper, less forgivable.  I’m writing specifically about the violence against women in the Bible, and the violence that biblical womanhood sort of encourages / allows — and about animalistic desire for violence. It’s interesting because when I first wrote it, I never felt like Miss Lilly was being abused — but now it so clearly feels like she is, both emotionally AND physically. Lara and Lilly are two women who seem to be in charge of their sex lives. They’re not doing things they don’t want to do.  While tweaking this draft I was trying so hard not to accidentally break the play by over-correcting, since I’m a different person with a different brain now — but I definitely found my awareness of the violence heightened.

The cast is led by Larisa Oleynik (as Miss Lilly) and includes Tasha Ames (as Lara), Brady Amaya (as Jordan), Kavi Ladnier (as Vandalla), Iman Nazemzadeh (as Richard), Justice Quinn (as Harold), along with Rachel Caselli and Amir Levi as Elephant Puppeteers.

production photos by John Perrin Flynn
photo of Bekah Brunstetter by Alison Yates

Miss Lilly Gets Boned
Rogue Machine Theatre
Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Avenue in Venice
Sat at 8; Sun at 7 (except Sep 29); Mon at 7; Sat at 2 (Sep 28 only)
ends on October 28, 2019
for tickets, call 855.585.5185 or visit Rogue Machine

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