By Patrick Hurley
Lucy Alibar’s new play Throw me on the Burnpile and Light me up, playing now at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, is a hybrid theatre/creative non-fiction piece that evokes through cleverly constructed language, simple nostalgic imagery, and a gentle performance by the writer.
Lucy Alibar is the solo performer in what is a collection of short stories from her youth. More specifically, she has written a series of episodes that detail moments from her life while she was in fourth grade. The stories ebb and flow with the ease of a tidal river. We are carried along by the weight of language. And because of the literary aspect of the piece, theatricality is replaced with old-fashioned campfire-style storytelling, and the imagination of the spectator provides most of the spectacle. There is very little in the way of danger or stakes. This isn’t that story. This story highlights the precious moments of youth, when innocence must inevitably turn to knowledge. At it’s core this is a bildungsroman, wherein our heroine steps from being a child into the inevitable and terrifying world of autonomous adulthood.
Lucy Alibar, as the writer and performer, has a likable charm and sweetness about her that adds a gentle element to the story. We never see her anger, nor do we see any bitterness or resentment. She serves as a reliable narrator who is recalling memories of her family, most specifically her father, who she calls boss man. The memories are distant enough from her that she is never reliving them, she has the advantage of time, and so she recounts them from that distance. This also allows for hyperbolic language, we understand that we’re not “in” the moments, we are peering at them through the liminal window of our narrator. She grew up in the Florida Panhandle, which informs some of the given circumstances, and adds a good deal of humor. Besides her family life, she also recounts some of her experiences in school with a bully, a girl named Joy Huff, who she calls “my enemy.”
The stories involve Lucy’s volunteer work at her daddy’s office, where she worked as secretary and helped him with his files. Her father defended murderers on death row, and Lucy speaks of the one who was executed during her fourth grade year, a man for whom she made mixtapes of Sam Cooke so he could have music to listen to in prison. She tells, among others, the story of how a local boy killed a pastor, and the reasons behind it. One of the most compelling stories deals with her enemy Joy, a camp for Daisy Girl Scouts, a terrifying truck ride, and a triumphant but unexpected friendship.
The title of the piece refers to the burnpile that her father had in their yard. A mountain of memories, a collection of things that he plans to burn because they’re not needed any longer, which is a nice, if not obvious set up for a scene of maturation and realization. The pile includes files from former clients, old books, and even the mixtapes that were returned after death row claimed another of her father’s clients.
This production is engaging, thanks to Ms. Alibar’s easy presence and gift for prose. The scenic design, by Takeshi Kata, adds a wonderfully cluttered touch, that lends itself to the idea of the past being a big collection of stuff, of memories being stacked into piles. And the projection design, by Jason H. Thompson adds an aesthetically pleasing element. Director Neel Keller allows for his performer to use her words more than her actions. This is a very quiet, and very still play. Most of the action will take place in the imagination of the viewers. It is not, however, inherently theatrical, and instead plays out like a live action version of an audio memoir. Begging the question, why theater? It seems the better medium for this piece would be television, where the episodes could be fully realized. And a book version should absolutely happen. The literary value of Ms. Alibar’s writing is what makes this piece special. It is dripping with evocative language and salient imagery. And it leaves us with a warm nostalgia for our own youth, for the moments where we can see the evolution in ourselves, and that alone makes it a worthwhile evening indeed.
Throw me on the Burnpile and Light me up
By Lucy Alibar
Directed by Neel Keller
Ticket Prices: $25 – $70
(Ticket prices are subject to change.)
Tickets are available
Online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org
By calling Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.628.2772 • In person at the Center Theatre Group box of ce at the Music Center
Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232