She adapted her play into the Oscar-nominated film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012).
Now, acclaimed playwright Lucy Alibar delivers “Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up” virtually at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, now through June 13.
“It’s a semi-autobiographical play about Lucy in fourth grade serving as an assistant to her father, a lawyer who represented men on death row,” Artistic Director Ryan Rilette told WTOP. “It deals very much with ‘white trash,’ a derogatory term. … The idea of people as trash, the way we discard those that have less. … It tries to expand empathy for people.”
In real-life, her father was a lawyer in Florida, but she sets the play in Southern Georgia.
“We don’t see stories about the rural poor much anywhere, specifically in theater, so that’s one of the big things that attracted us to this,” Rilette said. “I also love that it is told from a fourth grader’s perspective. It is a child’s eye view of very grown-up issues. That’s one of the things Lucy does very well if you’ve seen her movies: ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.'”
A child’s perspective of legal work in the Deep South recalls the work of Harper Lee.
“Many people who have seen it have said that it feels like a contemporary version of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ but she didn’t set out to write that, per se, she was just writing stories about her father,” Rilette said. “The thing that really ties it more closely to her other work is the father-daughter relationship, which she really digs into in all of her work in a big way.”
“Burnpile” features a commanding one-person performance by Beth Hylton.
“Beth Hylton plays 10 different roles and is purely genius,” Rilette said. “She knocks it out of the park. It’s a stunning performance. She plays a 10 year old and 10 other roles in the show. She plays everybody, from her dad to her 10-year-old self to her teachers to the people her dad represents on death row. It’s an amazing tour-de-force performance.”
The production was filmed over a span of three days a few weeks ago.
“Our union only allows us to tape the full show beginning to end without stopping,” Rilette said. “We film the whole thing a couple of times to make sure we get a really good take from a couple different angles, so it’s a very different approach than live theater.”
He hopes in-person performances will return by September.
“We miss people coming to the theater,” Rilette said. “We’re excited to get people back.”