Wednesday night October 23 was the world premier of local playwright Elizabeth Heffron’s “Bo-Nita” under the direction of Paul Budraitis. An intimately packed audience witnessed the premier in Seattle’s Repertory’s second stage, the Leo Kreielsheimer Theatre—a space created for acoustic perfection for small stage plays.
This sets up the play perfectly for “Bo-Nita,” which is performed entirely by one talented actress. The play was originally written for multiple actors, but the more Heffron explored the creation the more it became clear that to get to the core of this dynamic storytelling process there could be only one. Heffron states, “We don’t have to believe the character is suddenly someone else. She’ll just be acting like them for a little while.” And that is exactly what actress Hannah Mootz hits on the nose for us, giving a virtuosic portrayal of 13-year-old Bo-Nita and those most influential in her life.
Bo-Nita portrays an intense and complex family dynamic through her truthful and rambling dialogue. Heffron has stacked this continuous monologue with depth, metaphor and strategy as seven diverse characters come to life through one voice, one outfit, one actress. Though the story and the characters ultimately comes through one teller, the narrative feels reliable and candid despite its adolescent passion. Bo-Nita’s words are imaginative, her stories expressive, delivered with the vivacity and speed of a young teenager.
At 90 minutes, the play does not feel overlong, but it is demanding of its audience. There is never a dull or lonely moment, as Mootz creates a world while standing in the dull, concrete anonymity of an urban basketball court. Lighting Designer Robert Aguilar and sound designer Matt Sarritt establish setting in space and time as the stories leap achronologically, linked not by cause and effect, but by anecdote and circumstance. Indeed, the play is ultimately a character study of a precocious and sweet girl on the cusp of womanhood, created by circumstances that range from the harrowing to the miraculous to the very nearly absurd, but Mootz makes it all believable and endearing.
Bo-Nita cannot truly comprehend her own situation, and therefore the play doesn’t much dissect or linger on the larger issues behind her situation. It is an act of witness, not of protest, and a very entertaining one thanks to the virtuosity of Mootz. Even if the pacing proves to be too much for some audience members—or the statement too little—this solo spectacle of youth and family on a barren basketball court is a slam dunk for the actress.
“Bo-Nita” runs through November 17 at the Leo Kreielsheimer Theatre.