Playwright Lindsey Ferrentino on Broadway, New York in 2016.
Lindsey Ferrentino, 28, was born in Florida and has been writing since she was in high school. Her first professionally produced play, Ugly Lies the Bone, written when she was 25, tells of a badly burned female soldier undergoing pioneering virtual reality therapy for pain management while struggling to reintegrate to life back in a small town that had been dependent on Nasa’s space shuttle programme. The play won several major awards in New York and is in rep at the National Theatre, London until 6 June.
What was the genesis of Ugly Lies the Bone?
I’m from the small town where the play is set, Titusville on Florida’s Space Coast, which cropped up to support Nasa and the space shuttle industry and was a forward-thinking, technologically advanced and prosperous place. Then in 2011, Nasa cut the shuttle programme entirely, so there were suddenly no jobs, anyone who could leave left, and it went to No 1 for the rate of foreclosures in the US. I went away to college and came back to a town that was changing physically and economically.
To be in a theatre, to look at the physical and domestic costs of foreign wars is especially important right now
Where did the idea of a damaged female soldier come in?
My best friend became a psychologist at the veterans’ centre in the area. I began to see this parallel between the veterans looking for a way to start over and the town looking for a way to do the same thing. The need [for troops] in Iraq and Afghanistan around the time I was writing the play meant that women were seeing combat in ways they hadn’t in previous wars. The main character in the play is a burns survivor because the number one injury from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was burns from IED explosions. To be in a theatre, a communal space, and look at the physical and domestic costs of foreign wars is especially important right now.
Staging it at the National, what difference does having a British cast and director make
There are small, funny translation things – trimming a Christmas tree to us means decorating it: I came into rehearsals and they had scissors and were physically trimming the tree!
What’s it like to watch a space shuttle launch?
The sky lights up with a ball of fire and you watch it go and go and go until it disappears. The whole community comes out of their houses, cars pull off the highways, school stops, and everyone looks up at the same thing at the same time. That is a really special thing to be from. At that time, the community and the country stood together and looked up at something bigger than themselves, and I think the loss of that will be felt for a long time.
Kate Fleetwood and Kris Marshall in Ugly Lies the Bone at the National.
I have two world premieres of new plays off Broadway this year. One is called Amy and the Orphans; it’s about my aunt who had Down’s syndrome, and I wrote it for the actress Jamie Brewer [who has Down’s]. She told me she has to dumb herself down to play someone with Down’s syndrome because an audience’s perception of her functioning level is lower than it actually is.
The second play is called This Flat Earth and takes place a month after a school shooting occurred, from a middle-schooler’s perspective.
Wow, big themes…
I feel like I’m interested in telling big political stories from the smallest details of everyday life. And with what’s going on in my country right now, as this presidency goes on, it seems to me important to find stories with unlikely female protagonists.