In The Klunch’s newest comedy, written by Artistic Director Ian Allen, Lisa Hodsoll plays former First Lady Laura Bush as she recounts the incident, as the title suggests, when she killed a guy. In 1963, 17 year-old Laura blew through a stop sign in Midland, Texas, killing classmate Michael Dutton Douglas. There has been much speculation about the events surrounding the accident. In Ian’s funny and irreverent one-woman show, Laura confronts these conspiracies and ruminates on her life experiences: before, during, and after the White House.
Sarah Scafidi talks with actress Lisa Hodsoll about her process and preparation for the role:
Tell me about the play.
I don’t want to give anything away, but when you Google Laura Bush’s name, one of the first or second things to come up is “Laura Bush killed a guy,” in reference to an accident when she was seventeen. So, she’s trying to take hold of the narrative about herself and explain what life has been like for her during the Presidency and otherwise. A lot of these First Ladies have a public persona, and this play is inviting the audience to see the playwright, Ian’s, take on Laura beyond that public persona: who is that person with the perfect hair and the perfect smile, really?
It takes you through a lot of the things we don’t generally know about her private life (unless you’ve read her memoir). It goes into her experiences through 9/11, the Presidential race, the run for Governor against Anne Richards, having the twins, etc. – which all sounds a little dry, but it is a very funny, sarcastic play. And it’s very clever in the way that it is structured. Ian’s play jumps around in time and has a circular quality, going back to revisit incidents. I have a lot of admiration for him as a writer. He’s very clever, and so funny and sarcastic.
Is that humor and sarcasm a nod to Laura in some way, or just Ian’s voice coming through?
It’s his voice. She does have a good sense of humor, though, and so does George Bush. I’ve listened to interviews of her talking about George, and she likes that he is a funny man who makes her laugh. But the sarcasm is all Ian. It’s very much dark humor – which is totally my cup of tea. So I loved it.
Have you been a part of the writing process at all, or was the script pretty well written when you joined the project?
I came to it when it was pretty fully formed. Though we did one run-through for him about a month and a half ago, and he felt it was a little long, so he carved out some of it. The structure remained the same with a few paragraphs and sentences taken out here and there. So, in that sense, it was revised.
He originally wrote it to have a guy play Laura in drag. Now that I’m familiar with the text, I can sometimes imagine that – the humor of that. But of course, it’s a whole different beast with an actual woman, because then there is a reality to it.
Do you know what went into the decision to ultimately have a woman in the role?
When they did the auditions, they were looking mostly at women, but they did look at some men. I think it’s a little easier to dismiss with a guy in drag, because then it’s just a farce. I think that’s where Ian’s coming from. It’s a little edgier when it’s a woman and we are invited to believe that it’s actually her. That’s what I think, but I don’t know exactly.
Have you worked with Ian or John before?
I’ve worked with John at Theater J on Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures in 2014 . Long title – wonderful play.
I hear you’ve been doing a lot of research on Laura Bush. Tell me about that.
It’s been interesting. I’ve listened to her entire memoir – which she actually narrates. That’s been helpful both for the accent and seeing the similarities with the text that Ian wrote – the things that are real and the things that are more from his imagination. I’ve watched a lot of her on YouTube. I never thought I would spend so much time watching Laura Bush! I’ve watched a wonderful DVD about the 2000 election called Journeys with George which was produced by Nancy Pelosi’s daughter for HBO. I just got a book called First Women about the First Ladies. That’s been helpful, too, to get a sense of what it’s like to be in that role. I’ve watched videos of Barbara Bush. I’ve watched videos of George. It’s so fantastic these days – everything is on YouTube.
As an actor, do you tend to research this much for a role?
I tend to do a fair amount of research anyway, just because I love that aspect of doing a role. You go into a different world and expand your knowledge set into places you wouldn’t normally go. But I’ve done more for this role because she is a real public persona, not just somebody I create. I’m trying to be as Laura Bush-like as I can. So, I’m looking at the sound of her voice, the way she looks, the way she holds her body, and the way she smiles. I lived through those years of course, but looking at pictures from the time and the various people that are referenced has been helpful to me.
That is something new to my process: instead of creating things out of my imagination, I can go online and find a picture of Karl Rove, for example.
Laura Bush Killed a Guy
Produced by The Klunch
May 4 – June 4, 2017
Details and tickets
Do you find it more challenging or just a different challenge?
It’s a different challenge. I very much enjoy it. It’s been a very intensive process. John and I have only met virtually because he’s out in Seattle. My audition was virtual too. All of our rehearsals to date have been via Google Hangout – except for one where I got together with Ian. It’s been surprisingly easy to do, but I’m very happy to know that in a few days, I’ll be in a room with them. That will be fun.
What’s it like doing a one-woman show vs. a play with other actors?
Well, I’ve done one before: Medea’s Got Some Issues. We did it in DC, and then the playwright took me to Chicago, and I did it there as well.
It’s intense. There is nothing but you and the audience. It’s wonderful, but it also requires so much concentration because it’s breaking the fourth wall and anything could happen. That was one of the challenges of doing Medea, because when we first did it for Capital Fringe, we did it in the back of a bar, and there were people using the ice machine during the performance. There was so much to distract me. People would come in whenever they came in. That won’t be the case here, but it will still be a challenge because it’s such a small space and it’s so intimate. There’s no getting away from me, and there’s no getting away from you guys. We are in it together. So if someone falls asleep, I’m going to be very aware.
Without having a scene partner, that makes the audience your scene partner, right?
They are completely my scene partner. I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and performed there this past summer. That was such a great training ground for this play and for gaining experience in breaking the fourth wall. To market the show, we had five occasions where we had to perform a ten or fifteen minute snippet of the show on the Royal Mile, and there were so many people around, so many distractions, that trying to get people’s attention and keep it in this crazy atmosphere was an amazing training as an actor. Because if you can do that, it takes away all the fear.
Do you want to talk at all about the controversy alluded to in the title of the play?
It’s so cleverly written and so wonderful, I don’t want to spoil anything. I want the audience to be surprised. The most important thing is that it is really funny and very sarcastic. A lot of it is true, and then a lot of it is in the imagination, coloring that truth.
Do you think this play speaks to our current times?
Of course, in the hyper-political situation we live in right now, Ian has tweaked it to reference the current administration – a few brief references. The play is structured into segments, and one of the segments used to be titled “Michelle Obama,” and now, it is “Melania Trump,” about a poll asking which of the American First Ladies you most admire. It definitely brings in the current day, but that’s not the focus. It is a frame within which to view the play.
I wonder what it must be like to be a First Lady. In a position with such power but always in the spotlight.
You mean the responsibility and the weight of it?
Yeah. Does Laura talk about that in the play?
She does talk about it when she gets into Afghanistan and Iraq and going to war. I found out from the play that she actually delivered the Presidential address to the women and children of Afghanistan, addressing their suffering. This was right after the invasion of Afghanistan. In the play, she addresses the realization of having that political platform and being a voice. And earlier in the play, she talks about using that role to promote causes.
It’s fascinating. In the book I’ve been reading about First Women, I learned that so many of the First Ladies view being in the White House as difficult because you have no privacy, you have to always look perfect, you have to always be perfect, and the stress of that. Meanwhile, all the negative criticism also comes with it – which is something she talks about: criticism about herself and the way she looks. It’s a lot of pressure. If I hadn’t done that research, I would have thought, “wow how amazing to be First Lady! It must be incredible: all the people you meet and being a part of history…” I would think about all of those things, but I wouldn’t think about the fact that you are in a state of danger. That when your husband leaves in the morning, you don’t know if he may come back, particularly after 9/11 when the threat levels were so elevated.
Yeah, I read that on 9/11, Laura was taken to a bunker in the White House and George had been on his way back from Florida, so she had no idea where he was or if he was safe until he joined her much later. I can’t even imagine what those hours must have been like.
Yep. And that day, he was shuttled from one place to the next and the next, and the country didn’t know where he was. There was this sense of confusion. In Ian’s play (and I don’t know if this is true or not), Laura doesn’t know for many hours where he is, other than he is being moved around for safety.
Is there anything you want DC audiences to know?
Just that it is a really fun, funny, sarcastic play, and I think people will really enjoy it.