Wrestling With Alligators (and Yourself)
A new play finds drama in the Everglades
Hilary Bettis remembers the long nights she spent years ago with her now-ex boyfriend at rock clubs in Brooklyn and the East Village. She felt "that visceral experience of live music and community" was missing from her theatre life.
"I really wanted to find a way to write a play that my friends who weren't involved in the theatre would want to go see," she says.
Soon enough, she started work on Alligator, which New Georges is presenting through December 18 at the A.R.T/NY Theatres. The play follows twin orphans who wrestle gators for a living at a tourist trap in the Florida Everglades, and from the beginning, Bettis knew she wanted it to have the rawness, heat, and "organic spontaneity" of her rock-n-roll nights.
"I wrote it as if it were a fever dream," Bettis says. "The alligator, the boys in the car, the raccoon – [they] all came out of nowhere. I was experiencing what people in the play were experiencing as I was writing it, as opposed to sitting back and planning what these people were going to do."
But while she may not have known where there plot was going, she definitely knew when the emotions were accurate. "It had just enough fiction and theatricality to hide what is a very personal and, in many ways, autobiographical story," she says. "I was living with an alcoholic and dealing with alcohol myself. A close friend who was my mentor and advocate, who taught me everything about writing, was dying of cancer, and he didn't have any family. I became the person caring for him. I was dealing with death and poverty and alcoholism, no furniture, my whole family getting laid off..."