Review by Sandi Durell
It is time for a revival of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This. It originally opened in 1987 with John Malkovich and Joan Allen in the leads now played by the lithe and well-toned Keri Russell (TV’s ‘The Americans’) as Anna, and Adam Driver (TV’s ‘Girls’ and ‘Star Wars’ triology) as the wildly volatile, no holds barred Pale (real name Jimmy) who ignites, explodes giving pause to what the word maniacal might mean.
The story finds Anna, dancer-choreographer, having just returned from attending gay roommate, dancer and dear friend, Robbie’s funeral, who died in a boating accident with his lover. She is grieving deeply and angry at a family who never saw him dance, knew nothing about him nor seemed to care not only about him (choosing to or not recognizing Robbie’s homosexuality,) nor about how she fit into all of this, thinking of Anna as a girlfriend. Written in the 80s, when the AIDS crisis was at its peak, playwright Wilson’s exploration into this genre surely had more impact when it opened on Broadway.
Anna is being preempted by her sometime well-to-do boyfriend screenwriter Burton (David Furr – Noises Off) talking endlessly about his new idea for a script. Her other gay roommate graphic designer Larry (a very funny Brandon Uranowitz – An American in Paris), enters to unleash a litany of comments about his sexuality, and is the comic relief. He’s truly upset for his friend Anna whom he adores. The three of them are very touchy-feely.
It’s over a month later when the apartment door to their downtown warehouse (well designed by Derek McLane), is nearly broken down at 2 a.m. when Pale arrives, drunk, drugged out, and in a frenzy spewing over-the-top expletives that would scare anyone. He’s come to collect his brother Robbie’s belongings. Dressed in expensive 80s style clothes by Clint Ramos, he’s rude and mean spirited, caring little for anyone’s feelings, disrespectful in every way.
When Larry comes strolling out in his underwear, Pale rails even more, brandishing a gun, talking about ‘fruits’ and diminishing Anna as a woman referring to her “almost no tits at all…”- Anna responding with “you’ve completely mastered half the art of conversation.” This blue collar restaurant manager hailing from New Jersey, who once had a wife and two kids, knows no restraints in behavior or language. He’s in and out of psychotic episodes like a blast of wind but with that comedic edge all to the credit of Wilson’s spectacular writing.
After much ado Pale, burning up with fever (literally and figuratively), is about to fall asleep on the couch. In spite of his outbursts and uncontrollable behavior, Anna (dressed in short, slinky nightclothes) is tending to him, rubbing his chest and petting him, to the degree where Pale tells her he’s becoming aroused and we know the result of that scenario.
Burton is aghast when he finds out that Pale and Anna have been together; he was readying to ask her to marry him. Anna eventually tells Pale she can’t deal with him and wants him out of her life. All the while, the flippant, sarcastic Larry provides the laugh lines against Pale’s insanities.
Anna’s persona is quiet, low-key, poised and guarded, a non-fighter who appears to lack substance. But this is the story of how opposites attract and eventually find a way to live and survive together.
She tames the savage beast so that two conflicted emotionally locked souls find love in . . . all the wrong places?
Director Michael Mayer skillfully and cleverly plays it all to the hilt allowing for the silliness of Larry’s character to bloom large against the combustible and eventual surprisingly tender side of Pale. There are many spellbinding moments and some lulls. But you will leave the Hudson Theatre emotionally drained after two and a half hours.
The rest of the design team includes lighting by Natasha Katz and sound & original music design by David Van Tieghem.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
Burn This – Hudson Theater, 145 West 44 St. NYC www.thehudsonbroadway.com thru July 14