Playwright Hilary Bettis is an artist with a purpose. “What is happening at our border is one of the greatest human rights issues of this generation,” says Bettis, who returns to Off-Broadway with the world premiere 72 Miles to Go…. “I feel really compelled, in all of my work, to find a way to start that conversation without beating people over the head with it, or making it an issue story.”
With 72 Miles to Go…, directed by Jo Bonney at Roundabout Theatre Company, Bettis invites her audience to fall in love with an American family: a mother, living in Nogales, Mexico, and her husband and children in Tucson, Arizona. Immigration laws forcibly separate them by 72 miles but also by missed milestones: graduations, new relationships, and career paths. Spanning eight years, it’s a play that’s as much about the border crisis as it is the story of how a family comes of age.
Bettis began writing 72 Miles to Go… in 2017, but the play takes place between 2008 and 2016. “[The border crisis] is something that’s in our news cycle now, but it’s actually been happening for a long time and I think that a lot of Americans aren’t really aware of that,” says Bettis.
Though 72 Miles to Go… is set in the past, the play asks larger questions about a collective American identity today. “All of my work explores what it means to be an American now,” says Bettis. “What are our shared values that help bring us together and can bridge all of the divisive rhetoric that is in our universe right now?”
It was also important to Bettis to make room for joy, laughter, and love. “I feel like we live in an era where people are really angry and people are on edge,” says Bettis. “I wanted to write something that reminded us of the everyday. The people that we love. I want an audience to see their family in this family.”
Inspired by her own family (“little things that trickled in subconsciously”) 72 Miles to Go… is a deeply personal play for Bettis. Her journey as a writer, too, has been shaped by her family story. “There’s always been this elephant in the room of, ‘Who exactly are we? And where do we come from?’” says the playwright. “As I became a writer, that question of identity, and what it means to reclaim being Mexican-American, to reclaim your own family legacy—that’s something that’s incredibly important to me.”