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Up and Coming: One actress, seven parts, three generations

Two years ago Hannah Mootz was a theater student at Cornish College of the Arts, dreaming about What Might Come.

These days, she’s about to make her debut at Seattle Repertory Theatre in a one-woman show. “Yeah, it’s intense. But I just see it as fun!” she says.

Mootz is 26 years old, 5 feet 6 inches, curvy.

The actor in rare repose. Hannah Mootz takes a break from rehearsal of "Bo-Nita," which opens at Seattle Repertory Theatre on Oct. 18. Photo: Florangela Davila 

“I’ve played a lot of hookers and strippers,” she says. “Sexy ladies. Maybe it’s my body type. Maybe it’s because it’s so not me and I like being bold and out there.”

She was “out there” as a mistress in purple lingerie doing sexy things in New Century Theatre Company’s production of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” earlier this spring.

This time, Mootz plays 13-year-old Bo-Nita. Scrappy, matter-of-fact, according to the script by Seattle playwright Elizabeth Heffron. Mootz also plays Bo-Nita’s 30-year-old mother, her 50-year-old grandma and a quartet of men ranging in age from their 30s to their 60s, each uniquely central to the story of a girl who has grown up too fast and in the margins.

“There’s that delicate point when a girl is on the cusp of womanhood,” says Heffron, explaining why she created a teenaged girl protagonist. Heffron raised two daughters, both now grown.

“Bo-Nita has no editorial stance about her life being good or being bad. She’s just in it and she’s just telling us, ‘Here’s what my life is.’”

Hannah Mootz in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Bo-Nita. Photo: Nate Watters

The story is set in St. Louis and it’s a crazy and dark tale about “what she [Bo-Nita] thinks is a miracle in her life,” Mootz says, taking a quick break during tech rehearsal earlier this week.

We’re at Caffé Zingaro. She’s got her travel mug of black tea. “Throat Coat,” Mootz says.Gotta coat the throat.”

She’s still in costume, which really doesn’t look all that different from what you might see on some tween on the street. A burnt red babydoll dress layered atop torn jeans. Sneakers. Mootz’ own orange hoodie, a garage sale find.

When she first read the script Mootz knew she had to have the role(s). “They’re everyday people,” she says.They’re very real. They’re just in a zany story.”

She'd done one solo show before while in college, a play she wrote. Three callbacks later, she got the part.

“Everyone keeps saying, ‘You know how big this is?!’ And I could get worked up on that, but I just want to share this girl’s story,” she says.

To prepare, Mootz has read up on Cajun culture and all sorts of Missouri references. For inspiration, she has visual muses in her dressing room. Pictures of a pipe, a trailer, a llama — all things nodded to in the play.

She’s working on the endurance to nail a 90-minute play (no intermissions) and the physicality needed to embody all seven characters. Where to hold her body? How to use her mouth? Clenched for a Southern accent; or, pursed for a teen with a hard edge and steely eyes.

At the café, on request, she’s larger-than-life Grandma Tiny and then, she’s that girl on The Ave. “My director [Paul Budraitis] references street kids because they have this certain toughness,” she says. “They’ve had crazy lives and they’ve had to have a hard shell in order to survive.”

“When the day starts, I’m really excited. At night, I get a little anxious. I can’t turn my brain off with all the exciting things that are about to happen.”

Break is over. Throat Coat in hand, Bo-Nita’s yellow barrettes still anchored in her hair, Mootz heads to the theater across the street. Things are happening now.  

If you go: "Bo-nita" at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Oct 18 – Nov. 17. Tickets and showtime information here.

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