“I like to overshare,” confesses main character Lysette (an actress herself) during an awkward conversation with a co-actor. In the name of oversharing, I Wrote This Play To Make You Love Me, N.C. Stage’s second show in a trio repertory series, is an inside look at the trials and tribulations of Lysette, an actress preparing to play a role that uncovers her deep fear of abandonment. The action weaves through Lysette’s interrelated childhood and adult experiences, exploring the frustrating imbalance of an unmoored life in the theatre, and intimate relationships which prove to be anything but intimate.
Lysette is repeating her mother’s pattern of attempted self-discovery through a series of one-night stands and flawed relationships, interspersed with acting jobs ranging from an absurdist Lady Macbeth in Europe to Nora in “A Doll’s House” at a regional theater in Vermont. The structure of the play is similar to that of a patchwork quilt; scenes jump from a thumping bar as Lysette responds to terrible pick up lines with a surprising eagerness to a reenactment of pivotal childhood moments, complete with fairy wings and a begrudging brother in an animal mask.
The music of Liz Phair serves as the play’s soundtrack. For those who didn’t come of age in the ‘90s, during that time Phair was something of a patron saint for the modern sexually liberated and emotionally confused woman. Her music is the first sound the audience hears, making it clear what type of ride is to be expected—especially once Lysette starts recounting a few of her choice bar-night encounters. Phair’s music echoes the convoluted messages of that era- broken families and marriages, the apparently fiercely independent woman who is still not complete, happy, or satisfied without a male presence. Lysette bounces from seeming intimacy with an elusive married lover to rampant flings that are supposedly fun, yet empty.
As Lysette celebrates being cast as Nora with her brother Zach, thrilled at the chance to play a part that normally goes to doll-like waifish actresses (she says that the producers wanted a Nora who “looks like she eats a lot of macaroons”), the scene transitions into her own exploration of her mother June leaving when Lysette and her brother were small children. Lysette explores her childhood experiences with her Catholic father and infrequently present mother while also struggling with the relationship with her married boyfriend, Owen. The examination of the parallels between Lysette’s personal history and the aspects of the role she is to play as Nora starts the action of the show. It becomes clear rather quickly that for all her apparent enjoyment of sex, both with Owen and the parade of men she lets pick her up at bars, Lysette uses sex as an ineffective substitute for real connection and intimacy, a result of her fractured family and fear of abandonment.
The play’s mature content is highly entertaining and witty, as well as often-graphic. Though the humorous discourse can on occasion slip into cliché, it also serves to punch up the pace of the play in the right places to keep the momentum flowing — no small feat for what is essentially a one-woman show. Thibault’s script effectively traces the journey of Lysette while she pieces together past and present experiences. The play delivers an emotional wallop in the second act, adding some much-needed gravitas. The play works best when Thibault is on stage alone, interacting with a disembodied voice of a secondary character or monologuing. Her skill as an actress is to be commended for holding the attention of the audience, solo, for the bulk of the night, whether in moments of pure intense vulnerability or raucous humor. However, a few of the scenes between Lysette and her brother Zach, played by Hans Meyer, were less effective, the dialogue somewhat stilted and prosaic, the staging awkward and the momentum of the show often becoming sluggish during their scenes together. This is likely the result of the contrast between the depth of Lysette’s character coupled with the skill of Thibault’s acting, as well as the sketch quality of Zach’s character, being a truly secondary character in practice, though not in theme. The chaotic life Lysette lives, out of suitcases and sleeping in beds that are not her own (for both professional and nightlife reasons) mirrors the unsteady aspects of her childhood, and her relationship with Owen keeps her in a state of true indecision, not able to demand commitment from him nor leave him and commit herself to being alone entirely.
The audience at the show was an odd demographic of the largely over-fifty set, and while they seemed to enjoy themselves and no one left at intermission, the more audible laughs of recognition came from the scattered twenty and thirtysomethings in the crowd, no doubt a result of simple generational relevance. I Wrote This Play To Make You Love Me will certainly ring more true to those who count themselves of the Generation X category, yet it’s not out of the reach of understanding for those from other eras. Thibault’s script and energetic, consistent performance, bring this simple, small, wholly personal story to life, an inside look at the journey of one woman to excavate her childhood demons in an effort to discover who she actually is, and what she may really want from her life.
Written by Anne Thibault, directed by Jay Putnam, scene and lighting design by Rob Bowen, sound design by Hans Meyer. Tickets and show times: Tickets are $15 – $30, and patrons may choose their own ticket price for every performance. Call (828) 239-0263 or purchase tickets online. I Wrote This Play runs with A Beautiful View, June 17- July 19. Performance schedule varies by week. Show times are 7:30pm for evening shows, and 2:00pm for matinees. For the full rep schedule, visit www.ncstage.org.