Brooklyn-native, Los Angeles transplant Marja-Lewis Ryan, 29, wrote and produced the critically acclaimed film “The Four-Faced Liar,” which won the HBO Audience Award for Best First Feature (Outfest) and The Roger Walker-Dack Award for Emerging Artist in Queer Cinema (Miami GLFF).
She’s found tremendous success, in spite of her seventh grade aptitude test that said she was most qualified to be a coin machine repairman, a bowling pin mechanic or a wig stylist. She started acting at age six because she “wanted to be on ‘Saved By The Bell’.” See, Screech served a purpose beyond annoying you.
Ryan earned an honors degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She’s a self-described introvert who “prefers the privacy of her at-home office, which she shares with a litter box and occasionally two cats that poop in it.”
She opened up to Lesbian.com about her latest play, “One in the Chamber,” for which she’s raising funds via IndieGoGo.
How did you get started writing screenplays and play plays?
First of all “play plays” is the best thing ever.
Secondly, I wrote my first play play when I was thirteen. It was about a piano prodigy with alcoholic parents. (I’m laughing as I’m writing this because I was such a dramatic child. I would do anything to do a public stage reading of that play.)
But I really started writing in high school, writing monologues. Then, in college, I wrote scenes, then one-acts (you get it, baby steps) until I wrote my first play at 21, which I then adapted into a screenplay and that became the feature film “The Four-Faced Liar.”
As that was coming out, I was working on my first full-length play “Dysnomia,” which I produced two summers ago in Los Angeles. It got me an Ovation Nomination for Best Playwright, so that was nice.
Where will your new play be staged?
“One in the Chamber” opens July 12 and runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm through August 17 at The Lounge Theater, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038.
Also, I just got a bite to have it produced in DC this fall. Ooh.
What inspired you to write this play?
This play was inspired by the September 28 expose in the New York Times: “Children and Guns, the Hidden Toll,” which explored the rates of gun-related homicides versus accidental shootings in America.
There were all kinds of eye-popping facts and gruesome real-life scenarios, but the one that I keep coming back to is this study that was conducted in Atlanta and cited in the article. Researchers took 64 boys (all with at least some gun safety training) and let them into a room with an inoperative .38 caliber handgun concealed in a drawer. They watched as two-thirds of the boys handled it, one-third pulled the trigger and only one boy out of 64 actually reported the gun to an adult.
We have all heard a lot of truly horrific events related to gun violence. I just thought that if I could take the statistics and turn them into a family with a real heart beat, then that would be worthwhile.
Who are you working with on this play? How did that come about?
It’s like a “best of” crew, which I’m sure will include even more familiar faces as we get into production.
Emily Peck, who co-produced and co-starred in “The Four-Faced Liar” and is also my best friend from college. She is co-producing and starring in “One in the Chamber.”
Dan Carlisle, who I’ve also been best friends with since NYU. He co-produced and co-starred in “The Four-Faced Liar.” He is assisting with PR.
Heidi Sulzman, who co-produced and starred in my last play “Dysnomia” will be doing the same in this show.
Michael Fitzgerald, who designed the sets for “The Four-Faced Liar” and “Dysnomia,” was over last night designing this set, too.
Are you working on anything else?
Oh, yes. Some highlights are “There’s a Book for That,” which is based on my play “Dysnomia.” It’s a comedy about a middle-aged housewife and mother of two who comes out of the closet, set up with One Zero Films; “The Onlys,” with Black Label Media, about a 10-year-old transgender kid; and last year, I optioned the book “Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold” about the queer community in Buffalo, New York, in the middle of the last century.