An incendiary time-capsule of a play, Burn This returns to its L.A. home, the Mark Taper Forum, a quarter century after its debut.
Review by Pauline Adamek
Commissioned during the mid eighties by Circle Theater Company and written by co-founder and resident playwright Lanford Wilson, Burn This was first staged in New York (off Broadway) and captured the era with its arty subjects and glamorous NY apartment setting.
The play opens in a vast and airy lower Manhattan loft. (Ralph Funicello’s magnificent set features soaring cast iron architecture.) In it, two grief-stricken characters, dancer-choreographer Anna (Zabryna Guevara) and ad-man Larry (Brooks Ashmanskas), are lamenting the sudden loss of their dear roommate, Anna’s gay dance partner Robbie. Clearly still shell-shocked from their encounter with his family at the funeral, they describe the bizarre weekend to Anna’s boyfriend Burton (Ken Barnett), a successful screenwriter who’s just returned to town and heard the tragic news. Within the choppy and naturalistic dialogue, Anna and Larry express their disbelief at how little his family knew him, how they remained blind to his sexuality and how none of them had ever seen him dance. “They had no idea who he was,” mourns Anna.
It’s a poignant opening that immediately endears you to these three close friends. It’s as if we are eavesdropping on some private grief. Then, in the middle of the night, in bursts Pale (Adam Rothenberg), Robbie’s elder brother, a macho and tough-talking restaurant manager. Coked off his head, hyperactive, violent and drowning in grief himself, Pale has charisma and animal magnetism to burn, reminiscent of Stanley Kowalski. Still stunned by grief, Anna is ill-equipped to handle this forceful entity. Eventually, an improbably yet passionate love affairs transpires that has the sheltered Anna questioning everything about her cozy life. In the face of their shared tragedy, the quartet attempts to make sense of their lives and reconsider their own identities and relationships.
With her graceful dancer moves and physique, Guevara is good as the emotionally vulnerable Anna, but there’s a steeliness to her fragility that doesn’t quite fit the part. Rothenberg is also good as the antagonistic and hostile hothead, Pale, playing him like a cranky lion with a wounded paw. Ashmanskas brings plenty of bitchy dry wit to the emotional drama with his colorful gay persona and Barnett is suitably milquetoast as the boyfriend Anna can’t quite see herself with in the long term.
Sadly, playwright Lanford Wilson passed away the day before previews commenced, lending his wistful play an additional layer of loss. While the direction from Nicholas Martin is a too sluggish, Burn This is still a fine play and well-worth seeing.
Mark Taper Forum
601 West Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tuesday through Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2pm and 8pm; Sundays at 1pm & 6:30pm.
Runs until Sunday, May 1, 2011
Approx Three hours, including 10 min intermission
For reservations call: (213) 628 2772 or visit their site.