Variety raved about his play, Lydia in Bed, calling him "an impressively original voice". Lydia was also nominated for two LA Weekly Awards and received a feature article in the May 12, 2005 issue of LA Weekly ("Pas De Mort" by Steven Mikulan). In 2006 he was invited to Film Independent's Screenwriters Lab. He currently has two scripts optioned and is pursuing work in television and film. He is represented by United Talent Agency.
This has been Phinny's like a millionth Writing Bio
What inspired you to write this play?
I was in a writing group. We had an assignment where they gave us a word to write around. And they would just say the word. They said, "check" (or Czech). I wrote the first scene of Lydia in Bed for that exercise and the rest of the play just came out.
There's an unstated sexual danger in that scene.
I'd been reading a lot of Pinter.
So I wrote that first – and it set the stage for everything else in the play. I knew the rhythm of it was short scenes. There was a clear premise and a clear conflict: you shouldn't date your son's girlfriend. Thats' a bad thing to do. And you shouldn't date your boyfriend's father. That's a real problem. So from there, the play started to unfold.
Every character's deeply flawed. Lydia's torn up by the memory of her father being in her bedroom, she cries during sex, she can't open up in her acting class, she cuts herself, she lies to Bob, she sleeps with his father and is jealous of his ex-girlfriend...
Well, I've known a couple of people who've had difficult childhoods. I'm not one of those people, but having witnessed the fallout from that kind of upbringing, I think certain issues have become a component of my writing. So those elements of her personality come from people I've known—or, more to the point, from my experiences with these people. I wanted to take those elements, those experiences and put them into another person's body and make it a different thing. So, the first scene happened, and I knew, "That's her story." And I went into it, rather than trying to go around it.
Her madness seems real because you never pigeonhole it. Like most true madness, it can't be completely logically articulated or labelled, except, maybe in this instance to say that wanting to hurt someone is very much akin to wanting to love them. These people are kind of swept up by the idea of destroying everything good in their lives and at the same time hating themselves for doing it.
Right. And they have remorse. But their remorse doesn't necessarily make them better people. I didn't want to moralize about Lydia's decision making. She's actually a better match for Grave than she is for Bob, despite her destructive tendencies. I guess there's a difference between what looks right and what is right.
There's a lot of nudity and sex in this play. What was that like in the 2005 production?
There was actually more nudity in the production than was written in the play.
Because NOTE did it.
Because NOTE did it, yeah. They weren't really sure how to stage Grave going down on Reesa. so they decided to just go all the way. They were naked from the beginning of the scene to the end – and I would say that's one of the longer scenes in the play. Which, of course, was real taxing on the actors. Since I was playing Bob, I didn't have to be naked, but I decided to be. There was an easy way to get around it, but I thought A.) why be phony and b.) I'm going to be with them. They basically just decided to make the nudity commonplace by letting it be part of the play as frequently as it would be in life. So, scenes where you thought you might be naked, you were just going to be naked and that was it. One of the actors said, "You know, I think we did something that I've never seen onstage before: a naked woman punching a naked man." And I said, "You might be right, that's never been done before. I mean, not in a play play. Maybe in a weird bordello play in Cuba in the 1920's..."
Are you often in plays you write?
I'm often in them, but I'm not trying to be. I'm trying to get away from that.
I want to be more objective. If I'm thinking of myself in the role, I tend to write less active characters than I already would. I tend to see myself not doing anything because I'm a writer, I sit around watching things. And I would like to direct more. And as much as I love acting, there's an embarrassing quality to it.
When you're acting in something you've written, do you approach it in the same way as something by another author?
Exactly the same way. I have the same feeling, the same process: trying to sort it out and get the scene to work the right way, trying to understand what the character's motivations are. Cursing the writer.
Have you ever rewritten something for your character after a rehearsal?
I haven't avoided that, it just hasn't really happened. I'm much more likely to cut a line. Some people have asked, "why don't you write more lines for yourself?" But that doesn't seem like something I'd want to do. I don't know why.
It's your instinct as a writer fighting your desire as a performer.
Yeah, and one being a little more in charge. But there's one scene where Bob proposes to Lydia, for some reason I never really learned the lines. So we were always kind of fumbling a little bit. It was appropriate for the sequence, actually. The lines would change just slightly each night. I've always wanted to do projects that are improvised. People are sort of sacrosanct about writing and the words of the play, but I was never was. I always feel like there's a little room to ad-lib. That's how I started writing, I'd be working on a scene and I'd think, "this needs a couple of extra words here, just to feel more comfortable in my mouth, you know, to come out right."
You also have monologues that anchor the shorter scenes. The characters are speaking to someone who's not onstage and it's up to us to figure out who they are.
I used to do these monologue contests. I think I won a couple of times. I got used to writing monologues and to the rules of monologues. My friend Kirsten Vangsness would say, "monologues shouldn't be stories." So, I'd always try to make these non-story monologues, where you're trying to interact with someone else. But I eventually realized that audiences like stories as well. So, I'm always kind of in a push-pull between writing a story and making the interaction happen at the same time.
A lot of Lydia's monologues are diatribes to her acting class. Watching her fail at acting forces us out of the play because we're aware of watching an actress act a character who can't act. But that also makes it closer to our world – and more dangerous.
I was talking about Brecht the other day, for whatever reason. And I was trying to explain the whole point of the distancing effect, which, actually, doesn't really distance you. It's almost like a secret way to make you more involved. You see the actor beneath, in a way, and you think, "No, wait, he's a real person. He's acting like he's acting."
And you don't present the play linearly, which is Brechtian. I'm forced to go home and think about what I've just seen, to put it together in my head logically. And when I tie everything up, there are some things that still don't quite fit, so I have to think about it some more.
I actually have trouble writing in a direct linear fashion. I've always had some sort of issue with authority, even the inner authority of logic. When I started this, I thought "I just want to write what I feel like writing." I was in the middle of writing a screenplay, and this play was more of a diversion. But I had imbibed enough of the Syd Field method of screenwriting to know that around page 40 I was probably going to crap out – and that's exactly what happened. So I wrote a mini-story explaining what occurs in actual chronological order from beginning to end, and then I went ahead with the rest of it. I don't think the first 40 pages changed, though, except for the monologues. But basically, the order you see is the order I wrote it in.
What a play like this does by flipping around in time is call attention to how shaky our perception of time is.
I think that the play is about fundamentally is the ambiguity of truth, of reality, and of history. Lydia can't remember stories about her father; she doesn't really know what her history is. She has weird shapes and outlines that she uses at different times to explain herself, but she doesn't really remember the past.
She's onstage more than anyone else, but we end up knowing her the least.
Yeah, because she lacks self-knowledge.
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LYDIA in Press...
"Exhibiting an impressively original voice, scripter Phinneas Kiyomura has spun a compelling, brutally graphic history of a dysfunctional college coed whose intense needs and insecurities obliterate any rational perspective in her dealings with the world... "Lydia in Bed" definitely has strong legs to move on."
- Daily Variety 5/18/05
"Watching Phinneas Kiyomura's grim black comedy Lydia In Bed, a viewer will appreciate not only what is on the stage at Theatre of NOTE but also what is absent elsewhere in Los Angeles - tough, cruelly funny stories that confront sexual experience with an honesty that might be called full-frontal... Kiyomura knows how to write pithy while mostly avoiding the temptation to simply write one-liners... (The play) forces (the audience) to consider the confluence of lust and violence that always lies just beneath polite conversation. "
- LA Weekly feature article
"Phinneas Kiyomura's interesting, deftly structured, and darkly humerous
play... captures the forbidden allure that drives people into being "bad," but also reveals the banality and despair right underneath the allure... assured and intriguing work..."
-Back Stage West 5/19/05
Links to the archived reviews:LA Weekly Review