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Bitch Bares All at Road Less Traveled
by Anthony Chase
Lisa Vitrano's story of teen motherhood at Road Less Traveled
Over the course of time, the events of our lives sometimes take on new meaning. The travails of adolescence can, retrospectively, become the triumphs of middle age—if only we can survive them. This is a major theme of Lisa Vitrano’s autobiographical play, Bitch Bares All, currently on stage at Road Less Traveled.
The life-altering event of Miss Vitrano’s youth was to become pregnant at the age of 16, thus casting her, then and forever, in the real life role of teen mother, replete with all the socio-political implications of that title. The role was followed quickly by the roller coaster of life conflicts imposed by too much, not only too soon, but all at the same time. The mother-daughter-teen-spouse-student soon fell into a spiral of self-destructive behaviors that landed her in a psychiatric hospital for a two-week period of adjustment.
In Bitch Bares All, Vitrano, indeed, bares the facts of the things she has bourn, if not the salacious details. There is a point beyond which she is unwilling to go, critical characters are left in the shadow, certain events are recounted in bare-boned abbreviation. For, despite the provocative title, this is not to be a psychological strip tease. Miss Vitrano is not Elaine Stritch. Her purpose is neither narcissistic nor quite therapeutic. This playwright-performer decided, apparently at a very young age, that she would be the hero of her own life, and in Bitch Bares All, she claims this outcome as an inalienable right, not just for herself, but for everyone—even though she might not recommend the specific life she has had.
Vitrano is one of Buffalo’s most prominent actresses, and for those who know her only in this light, Bitch Bares All might come as a startling confessional. Even within the theater community, she is recognized more as a formidable talent than as the young mother of a young man. Indeed, in our self-absorption, seeing this child, now in his mid-20s, reminds us more of our own aging than of his mother’s relative youth. But over the course of time, Vitrano has felt the need to tell her story with building urgency.
She cites a pivotal moment as having come in 1995, when TIME magazine ran a cover story on teen mothers, blaming their existence for nearly all the ills of contemporary American society.
“I had hit a point,” says Vitrano, speaking by telephone, “when I was so tired of seeing articles about teen pregnancy, and how teen mothers are the dregs of society who cause all these problems.”
These familiar articles, with titles like “Who are the Pregnant Teens?” that cover topics like “early school failure,” “early behavior problems,” “family dysfunction,” “poverty,” and “determinants of sexual activity,” resonated with Vitrano and frustrated her. While she could see the truth of much what she read, she also found it impossible to reconcile the sociological profiling with her own life.
“At this point,” she recalls, “my son was eight or nine years old. I began to do my own research, to take books from the library.”
And most significantly, she started writing in a journal. In those journal entries, the seeds of Bitch Bares All began to grow.
“I was not thinking of a theater piece at first,” she notes. “But in time, the idea of a play or monologue did occur to me. At one point, I enrolled in the playwriting workshop with Manny Fried, and the first thing they always tell you in playwriting is ‘Write what you know.’ This is what I knew. So I began to theatricalize what I had started in my journal. The first piece was 15 minutes long. I called it ‘Shedding the Shadows,’ and Ellen Opiela encouraged me to perform it with Pandora’s Box at Alleyway. I was apprehensive about it and what I had written was very personal. There were scenes with my son’s father that I no longer include. But I was happy with it, and I was fascinated that women started to bring their teenage daughters, or to tell me they knew girls who needed to see the piece. Joyce Stilson [at Alleyway] also recognized that, and I began to work on a fuller script. We did readings for high school students. At that point I did send a copy of the script to Road Less Traveled [her current producer] but they weren’t interested. No problem. I just kept working.
“[Actress] Kristen Tripp Kelly liked it and began working with me, and we took it to the Infringement Festival.”
It was at this point that the piece got its provocative title.
“I knew what with hundreds of titles at Infringement, I needed something that would get people’s attention” admits Vitrano. “So we did it, and it was just me, and a bench, and really bad lighting. But that is where Scott Behrend saw it and said, at that point, he’d really like it for Road Less Traveled, if I could make it a little longer.”
Vitrano kept what she had at Infringement, added material, and shaped the whole. Does she think the piece is finally finished?
“No,” she says emphatically. “In fact, I may put in some changes before next weekend.”
While Vitrano sees the work as universal, she finds that most of the questions people ask are about herself, personally.
“I think that is just the way people relate to it,” she says. “They can relate or they have a friend, but they see these issues through me when they watch the play. I think it is about how we become the people we are, and that story speaks to everyone.”
Bitch Bares All continues at the Road Less Traveled Theater, Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre, 639 Main Street, through February 13. (1-800-745-3000).blog comments powered by Disqus
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