Writer and performer Lucy Alibar’s childhood experiences have fueled her creativity, first earning her an Oscar nomination for co-writing the “Beasts of the Southern Wild” screenplay. Now, Alibar debuted an entertaining one-woman show, “Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up,” at Center Theatre Group’s (CTG) Kirk Douglas Theatre on Friday evening.
The show offers a 9-year-old’s vision of Alibar’s childhood (that is unusual by Southern California standards) with charm and an ability to effectively tell a tale. Alibar is charming and earnest playing her childhood herself and spinning her partly autobiographical/partly fictional tales with prepubescent’s flights of fancy. The stage makes it feel like the audience is sitting in the yard or around a barbecue with her as she weaves her stories into an enjoyable evening.
Alibar is dressed in a white T-shirt, cut-off shorts and sneakers to present herself as a pre-teen child in rural Florida. She recounts working in the office of her lawyer dad, Baya Harrison III, the summer before fourth grade and her adventures throughout that year.
Alibar originally started out writing about her childhood in the Florida panhandle. She realized from the reaction to “Beast of the Southern Wild” that her life growing up in the rural South was different than the childhood of most people she encounters in Hollywood or at college in New York City. However, she knows people relate to tales about the sense children make of their world, particularly universal thoughts about people in authority, like teachers, who may or may not be ideal role models.
Alibar worked with director Neel Keller from the CTG to develop the material since they met at the Ojai Playwrights Conference in 2013. She created early buzz for her work in-progress, debuting parts at The Public Theatre in New York and the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab in Boston. The Kirk Douglas run is the World Premiere of the “completed” work.
The experience developing her one-woman show differed from her experience developing the stories for the movie, largely because of the media involved. For film, things are visual, but the “Burnpile” show at the Kirk Douglas required her to use words and gestures to help the audience visualize the stories she is telling. Alibar successfully has the audience in her hands waiting for the next tidbit about her family, their menagerie and the criminals facing the death penalty that her dad defended.
As one would expect from the show’s title, the burnpile (junk pile) behind the house comes up a lot. That includes her dad’s funeral wish to be tossed on the burnpile and lit up. He wants, as she tells in a few tales, “No crying and No Jesus” when his time comes.
Alibar enchants the audience with tales about her brother whom she refers to as “the son of,” a horny goat that has a tendency to hump their other animals, a Daisy Girl Scout escapade, her gift for making fart noises, and working on her Daddy’s death row cases that resulted in him “losing a man or two a year.” She often quotes some of her dad’s lines about the law and death penalty. She reports that her dad explained why he took on those cases: “No matter how poor and sorry a piece of trash you are, you deserve a good defender.”
Alibar’s “Throw Me On the Burnpile and Light Me Up” will be at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, Calif., through Oct. 2. Those who cannot make it to the show may get a chance to enjoy Alibar’s tales, which are being adapted into a pilot for FX.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Performance Sept. 16
Center Theatre Group
Los Angeles Times: From ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ to ‘Burnpile’ at the Kirk Douglas: Lucy Alibar finds her voice
Performances Magazine: A Conversation with Lucy Alibar and Neel Keller
Photos of Playwright/performer Lucy Alibar in “Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up” at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre by Craig Schwartz.