Friday, April 11, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 650: Marja-Lewis Ryan

Photo Credit: Courtney Caron

Marja-Lewis Ryan

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Current Town: Los Angeles, CA

Q:  Tell me about One in the Chamber.

A:  There was a featured article in The New York Times on September, 28th 2013, which revealed that the rate of accidental death by gunfire in this country is under recorded because there are no hardline laws or rules that a coroner must follow in order to determine if a death is an accident or a homicide. More often than not, deaths as a result of shootings where two people are involved (more specifically in this article, two children) are characterized as homicides. There were all sorts of studies and facts in this article that really stayed with me and One in the Chamber is a fictionalized version of what I imagine the real life human impact of those stats might look like.

The plot: In 2008, a ten-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his nine-year-old brother after their mother left a loaded gun in the couch cushion. Now, six year later, a court appointment social worker must determine if the now sixteen-year-old should be let off parole.

The show takes place in real time with no scene breaks or act breaks. It’s essentially a series of interrupted interviews between the social worker, and the mother, father, older sister, younger sister and the convicted killer.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I am a screenwriter so this is my only play in the works but I have a script about a transgender ten-year–old with Black Label Media, one about a suburban housewife who comes out of the closet with One Zero Films, a comedy about divorce with Reel FX, a really fun female-lead football movie with Present Pictures, and a couple of TV pilots, but my primary focus right now is finding the very best cat litter out there because my cats poop human poops. I’m open to readers’ suggestions – must be the clumping kind, the non-clumping just seems silly at this point.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  (I read your blog so I knew this question was coming and I asked my mother and here are the stories she wanted me to tell you.)

As a kid, we had a baby pool in the shape of a whale that we called Fudgie. On hot summer days, my dad (who is 6’2” and a lean 230lbs) would fill Fudgie up, slip into a pink bathing suit and wade on the front lawn; waving to neighbors coming home from work.

Every Memorial Day weekend, my father, [who has many nicknames including Mr. Green Thumb, because he can’t get grass to grow; Mr. Fix-It, because he thinks Duct Tape is pure magic; and Mr. Plastic (pronounced plas-TEEK) because he wears very old track pants with holes in them everywhere and called them his plastic pants] used to make my brother a “professional” whiffle ball field in our backyard by lining it with flour. And every year without fail the dog would eat it and puke absolutely everywhere for days. But my father thought it was definitely worth cleaning vomit if it meant we got to have a real life baseball field for double headers on Memorial Day.

In the winter of ’96, he had a brilliant idea and rushed to Home Depot bought pink insolation, taped it to the sides of the basketball court he made for me in the backyard and then got the hose and tried to fill it up in hopes that he could make me an ice skating rink. (It didn’t work, obviously, but you had to admire the man for trying.)

That same winter, it snowed three feet and my mother got all the neighborhood kids together and built a luge down the back steps. She even made a tunnel out of snow that our sleds would fly through because she poured water down the luge and let it freeze so we could go faster.

One time, I called my mother to come get me from school because I had to poop so bad and was too embarrassed to go but instead of just showing up, she came with pink plastic handcuffs and made me wear them from the main office all the way home just because she thought it was funny.

Honestly, I could go on and on but I think you get it. That fine balance of magic and trauma turned me into a writer.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  I would like to stop trying to explain to people that theater is good. There are tons, (millions I’m sure), of horrible, god-awful, unforgivably bad movies out there but people aren’t like, “Ugh, movies. I hate movies.” Theater needs some new PR. Like how broccoli got a makeover this year to try and compete with kale? Yeah. Like that.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Wendy Wasserstein, David Mamet, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Cherry Jones, Donald Margulies and Douglas Carter Beane.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love dysfunctional families. Anything kitchen sink drama – sign me up. I like plays that work within the inherent confines of theater – one space, no set changes, no flare, nothing distracting, just great actors talking words I’ve never heard talked in that order before. That’s really exciting to me.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Everyone is full of advice that is 99% unhelpful because we all have own paths but since you asked… Make your own work. Invest in yourself (yes I mean money, even if it’s not much, people really respond to artists who are willing to bet on themselves). Find smart, patient, passionate actors you can write for.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  You can watch my first movie, The Four-Faced Liar on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.:

One in the Chamber runs Friday, Saturday, Sunday July 12-August 17 at The Lounge Theater 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., LA, CA 90038. We are still fundraising!

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1 comment:

RLewis said...

Love the typewriters!