Hilary Bettis is diving into her own background for her latest play, “72 Miles to Go,” which will debut Off-Broadway this week.
The Brooklyn resident has quite a journey. As a child, Bettis moved around a bunch — her mother was a nurse and her father was a preacher, and by the time she was 17 years old Bettis felt it was time to “learn how to survive life,” which to Bettis meant moving to Los Angeles.
“While I was [in Los Angeles] I fell in love with theater, so I moved to New York and taught myself how to write,” said Bettis. “I’m basically a self-taught writer — I went to Julliard later for my fellowship, but I’m very self-taught.”
Bettis has since written nine plays, written for the FX series “The Americans” and written for three short films. However, it was during her time on the show that she learned how to tell a story from a perspective of a family living their day-to-day life while another story was being told.
“I learned so much working on ‘The Americans.’ As much as there was plotty TV stuff that needed to go into the script, there was also the elements of their family dynamic that was being grasped in the show. I wanted to write a play like that.” said Bettis.
Bettis’s latest play “72 Miles to Go” follows the story of Anita and Billy, who end up separated when Anita is deported to Nogales, Mexico — and forced to leave her husband and children behind in Tucson, Arizona. Set in 2008, the play measures the distance between Anita and Billy through graduations, anniversaries, and countless daily moments they spend apart.
“The conversations about the border and immigration are a part of the current zeitgeist, but in reality it’s been a topic of conversation way before today’s headlines,” said Bettis. “This play is a combo of my history and background, so I’m particularly passionate about this play.”
This play hits home for Bettis — her mother grew up in Tucson, and her grandfather was born in Mexico and came across the border when he was younger.
“This is not a new conversation about undocumented people,” said Bettis. “This is a cycle in our country. I really wanted to write a story about an everyday American family — things get sensationalized, and I wanted to show the things that we all go through. How do you do these things when you are separated by these bigger circumstances?”
When casting this play, Bettis and the team wanted to find actors who were really close to this story. Triney Sandoval is cast to play Billy, and Maria Elena Ramirez will play the role of Anita.
“We have a great cast. Many of them are Mexican-American and some of them grew up near the border.” said Bettis.
For Bettis, it’s important that the audience sees that “72 Miles to Go” tells the story of an American family’s journey, and that they can see themselves in the characters.
“I want the audience to see that this family is just like any other American family,” said Bettis. “Every generation has an idea of what it means to be an American. I think that this generation can be the first to see this family as an American family that is like us rather than seeing them as the others.”
“72 Miles to Go” will open at the Laura Pels Theatre, located at 111 W 46th Street, on March 10.