Friday, April 1, 2011

review - Burn This

Burn This
by Lanford Wilson
directed by Nicholas Martin
through May 1

"I'd Rather Be Blue...thinking of you, I'd rather be blue over you ...than be happy with somebody else."
The lyrics of this famous old standard seem to sum up the deep yet peculiar attraction of Anna (Zabryna Guevara) for Pale (Adam Rothenberg) in Lanford Wilson's mysteriously unpredictable story of love Burn This (1987) now in a fine revival @ the Mark Taper Forum. With unquestionably high calibre writing, a marvelous cast and superb direction from Nicholas Martin, Burn This leaves an indelibly piquant impression long after the curtain falls.

Recently deceased, Lanford Wilson was a master at delineating character. He loved to tinker with middle class values and throw them in the face of those living on the fringes of society.  Dancers, writers, all artists vs. common everyday laborers; gay vs. straight. It gave Wilson a field day for passionate dramatization as assault on the status quo! Larry (Brooks Ashmanskas), the openly gay roommate of Anna and deceased dancer Robbie, is not afraid of who he is and is willing to reach out to help a friend. He does it frequently and has the scars to prove it. But his bruises are well earned. Burton (Ken Barnett), on the other hand, a talented screenwriter, is forever reaching for perfection. When he sticks his neck out, it's more a form of revenge against human weakness. Like when he leashes out and physically attacks Pale for intruding into his and Anna's so-called idyllic arrangement, he unwillingly causes Anna to mistrust him and puts a damper on any possible future happiness between them. Unlike Larry, Burton ends up losing, and he's to blame. Pale, Robbie's crude, homophobic and difficult to bear brother, is not entirely rough-edged; there is sensitivity beneath and it is his soul, different yet akin to that of brother Robbie, that attracts Anna. A victim of his uptight Catholic upbringing he's a gentle soul who really wants to understand, to care.Whereas Burton and Anna seem a good match in the beginning, it is with Pale that Anna will find a volatile but perhaps ultimately more fulfilling relationship. As in life itself, it's all a crap-shoot and playwright Wilson dares to gamble fiercely.

The ensemble under Nicholas Martin's impeccable direction is a treasure. Guevara as Anna brings great vulnerability to the role. Rothenberg is astounding in a fearless portrayal of an intensely hurting individual. Ashmanskas is equally outstanding, making Larry hilariously funny with a heart of gold, that is bleeding on the inside. Barnett perhaps has the most difficult role as Burton. He makes him a flawed but likeable man with many redeeming qualities. Robbie, although deceased when the play opens, becomes a vivid character through the stories and attitudes of Larry and Anna.

Ralph Funicello's big open set design of a New York loft apartment is breathtaking in dimension and a rather haunting reminder of man's minute part in the universe at large. It evokes so many varying human images that pass before us in a short space of time.

Burn This is a uniquely provocative piece with  flawed people that we know, or have known or are bound to meet at some point. Their flaws are genuine, totally human and through the power of compassion and love, completely forgivable.

5 out of 5 stars

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