Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Review: BURN THIS
The powerful recent Broadway revival of BURN THIS featured a fiercely energetic, brilliantly acted and directed, sharply written play... except for a disappointingly tired, “romantic novel” conclusion: An un-tamed, un-PC, tortured, charismatic, strange, spirited, loud, “dangerous” man encounters a beautiful, charming, confused, unhappy woman, who has a nice looking, rich, pleasant, devoted, but not ardent boyfriend. Guess who she chooses. Guess who gets tamed.
The (currently almost omnipresent – see below) actor, Adam Driver, plays Pale with skillful verbal and physical humor, agile physical stage-fighting, moment to moment instantaneous spectacular yet convincing emotional pivots, and incredible energy (eight times a week? Wow!). (Note… Pale’s accent landed somewhat confusingly the night I saw the play, varying from indeterminate, to Brooklyn, to Bronx, to Italian, to well-I’m-not-sure … though I heard that it was more spot-on for another performance… That’s the beauty of live theater, each show is different!)
Keri Russell plays beautiful, charming, and confused very well. The role of Anna, sadly, does not require the fierce murderess side of her skill-set that she employed so deftly in THE AMERICANS. The “romantic novel” plot is clearly not told by a female novelist with an interest in the woman’s emotions. Her role is somewhat underwritten.
Before BURN THIS... at HIFF 2007
Photo by Eric Roffman
David Furr, as the soon-to-be-ex, and Brandon Uranowitz as the roommate, were both excellent and executed their roles nicely.
The director, Michael Mayer, stages the play in an interesting way, sometimes putting two characters far apart from each other so they are not even in the same field of view (at least from a seat close to the stage) – you see only one character at a time without turning your head. It requires you to focus, to study the character, as do lingering silent pauses in the dialog. Especially in the first act, Pale’s performance hits every possible laugh line hard, almost like a souped up Neil Simon comedy; while Anna seems to temper her performance of potentially funny lines, to mute their possible effect. The combination of these effects serves to enhance the humor while preventing the comedy from trivializing the characters.
One striking feature of the play (whose original production was in 87 with John Malkovich in the role of Pale) was its natural, matter-of-fact treatment of gay life. Anna is a choreographer, living with a gay advertising man and a gay dancer (whose death before the show begins is the catalyst for everything that follows). There is no mention of AIDS, which was beginning to attract serious attention by 1985 or so, and all of the characters in the play treat homosexuality as natural, although issues hover, concerning off-stage characters and their relation to the perished dancer. Did his family know he was gay? (There’s even a throw-away, momentary suggestion, quickly dismissed, that someone did know and deliberately caused his death.) The play takes it as natural and obvious (to anyone but the boy’s rural relatives), that a male dancer with a male Greek friend would be gay.
I’d wanted to see BURN THIS from the day of its first previews, but, unfortunately scheduling and previous commitments meant that I finally bought a ticket for its penultimate performance, Saturday night. And the theater gods were with me: THE HUDSON – a fine, older theater, with a nice lobby, some historic rooms, and far too few women’s rest rooms (not my problem, but I wanted to mention it) – was one of the few theaters performing on the night of the big blackout. (Possibly because it was further East on 44th street. There was one perceptible glitch in the lighting script which, in retrospect, may have been related to the returning of power in the neighborhood, but there was no other sign of trouble.) It was very comfortable inside.
I’m looking forward more than ever to see Adam Driver’s work, and I do want to see much more of Keri Russell, whose work in AMERICANS was extraordinary. She was very good here, but as I’ve said before, I'd love to see her cold ferocity brilliantly illuminate a modern interpretation of Lady Macbeth.
I came away from the evening immensely impressed by Adam Driver’s stage skills, by Lanford Wilson’s ability to write some powerfully interesting humor, and thankful that I got to see the play at all!
LANFORD WILSON ON THE GENESIS OF BURN THIS - YOUTUBE
PRODUCING BURN THIS (ORIGINAL ’87 VERSION) - YOUTUBE
BURN THIS – WIKIPEDIA
LANFORD WILSON – WIKIPEDIA
ADAM DRIVER – WIKIPEDIA
ADAM DRIVER’S FILMS IN 2018-2019
Untitled Noah Baumbach Project (post-production)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (post-production)
The Dead Don't Die
Officer Ronnie Peterson
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
ADAM DRIVER – IMDB
KERI RUSSELL – WIKIPEDIA
KERI RUSSELL – IMDB
SOME RELATED STORIES FROM QPORIT:
THE AMERICANS - with KERI RUSSELL
TRACKS - with ADAM DRIVER
AUGUST RUSH - with KERI RUSSELL