Miss Lilly Gets Boned
nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
July 18, 2012
Bekah Brunstetter's new play, Miss Lilly Gets Boned, sounds like a quirky comedy. The press release tells us Miss Lilly is a Sunday school teacher looking for love, so I expected it would be fun and cute. What I did NOT expect was that the play would start in ominous darkness with a life-size puppet elephant (operated by three actors) lumbering across the stage, much less that said elephant had just gored a woman and was about to be killed for that killing. While Miss Lilly is indeed a hilarious love story, it is also takes a really dark look at violence, sex and grieving. It examines how much a person's feelings give that person license to hurt other people… and sometimes elephants.
Miss Lilly (played with fierce intensity by Jessica Dickey) believes she has been "called" by God to teach Sunday school… despite the fact that she is terrified of children. She is also a 31-year-old virgin and praying for God to finally send her a man to love. Her sister, Lara, is a spinning instructor with a potty mouth who has a lot of sex and little of God in her life. Lara is played hilariously by Liz Wisan and gets the craziest lines in the play such as (upon learning she has contracted HPV) "I am not a slut! I can play the piano!" and "If you pray for me, I will puke on you." Finally, after waiting her whole life, Miss Lilly meets Richard—the father of one of her brattiest students. He explains that his wife has recently died and excuses his son's misbehavior. His own grieving leads him to Miss Lilly for comfort. They begin an affair which, despite Miss Lilly's great optimistic faith, is somehow not quite as sweet and not quite as gentle as Miss Lilly had dreamed her first romance would be. Chris Thorn, who plays Richard, deserves commendation for successfully managing all of the contradictions in his complicated character.
Meanwhile, a doctor (a kind of elephant behavioral psychologist) is trying to reach an emotional understanding with her charge on animal-death-row. Kudos to Studio 42, whose mission is to produce "unproducible" plays, for finding an effective way to represent the awesome elephant on stage! The elephant is designed and choreographed by James Ortiz. The doctor, played by Sanam Erfani, believes the elephant is suffering from a form of PTSD having witnessed the murder of his own parents.
Brunstetter's deft playwriting talent is the real star of this show and evident on numerous exciting levels. First, the plot is so inventive that the play is completely impossible to categorize. It hits so many different nerves between horror and humor. You will never guess where the play will end from the beginning. Second, the dialogue is flat-out amazing. Caustic zingers dance with poetic epiphanies while each character's voice is distinct. Miss Lilly, for example, is a nervous and uncomfortable character. Her dialogue is almost always breaking off and doubling back (handled excellently by Dickey). Finally, it is the juxtaposition of the scenes that gives the bold arguments of the play such a clear voice. Each scene is set in graceful conversation with the next. Lara, while pumping away at her stationary bicycle, challenges her spinning class to question why they follow her which highlights Miss Lilly's crisis of faith. Miss Lilly's students are appalled that God wanted an animal sacrifice, which leads us back to the elephant. It is so satisfying from the audience to be allowed to make connection after connection between the characters and events in the play.
With a packed house on opening night and only 4 performances in this limited run I have no doubt that rumors of this play's sheer awesomeness have already hit the streets. Therefor, I urge anyone in the market for a truly unique and inspiring theater experience to buy a ticket in advance and catch Miss Lilly Gets Boned before it's gone. Did I forget to mention the life-sized elephant?