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Burn This

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Burn This

Keri Russell and Adam Driver in Burn This. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

While the lead performers sizzle, the play fizzles. In the current revival of Lanford Wilson's Burn This, at the Hudson Theater, Keri Russell and Adam Driver, connect like sparkplugs while the play stumbles unevenly between the past and the conflicts of the present.

While Lanford Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for The Fifth of July in 1980, writing his upcoming play, Burn This, presented a struggle. By 1985, he felt burdened with a yearning to write something fresher and different, influenced by contemporary playwrights (Albert Innaurato's Gemini), nagging memories of characters battling life and death, and his own anxiety attacks. Remember, while the syndrome is not mentioned in this play, this was the age of AIDS. 

In Burn This, one of Wilson's challenging memories eventually developed into Robbie, a gay dancer who was suddenly killed in an accident with his friend, Dom. He had been living in a converted New York City loft, stylishly designed by Derek McLane with a cityscape wall of windows.

Robbie's roommates, Anna and Larry, have just returned home from his harrowing out-of-town funeral, meeting the family who has ignored Robbie's dance talent and his homosexuality. Anna, played by stunning film and TV star Keri Russell, is Robbie's conflicted dance partner/choreographer/confidant, and Larry, portrayed by Brandon Uranowitz (An American in Paris), is a gay wise-cracking ad man. Unexpectedly, Anna's boyfriend, Burton (David Furr), a floundering sci-fi screenwriter, shows up to comfort her but it is easy to see that there is not much fire in their relationship.

The stage snaps alive when Adam Driver (Pale) pounds on the door, demanding to enter and get his late younger brother's belongings. Pale is a restaurant manager, disillusioned with life. Tall and threatening, he is like a cyclone, a histrionic, impassioned motor-mouth. (Lanford Wilson apparently created Pale as a humanized anxiety attack.) Anna, grieving and dispirited with her own life and career, is drawn to this stranger, although she barely remembers him from the funeral yet he has an eerily close resemblance to Robbie, her late "soulmate." As for Pale, the frenzy about collecting Robbie's belongings fades as he becomes intoxicated by Anna.

Basically a film star, Keri Russell, plays Anna with subtle grace and intimacy, portraying her character's battle of choices. She is styled with slinky clothes designed by Clint Ramos. Her boyfriend is obviously devoted to her, but Anna hints that as safe as Burton seems to be, their passion is weak. In contrast, Driver's erotic Pale flashes theatrical sexuality and brutishness, and adding occasionally moments of heartbreak for his brother and himself, he smolders on stage. He is crude and fanatical but it is obvious that Anna goes for the wild man, not security.

It is Uranowitz as Larry who has the laughs and often the best observations. This is  evident when Larry reels off some lines from one of his favorite films, Lust In the Dust: "Who are you? Where did you come from? What do you want? It's me, isn't it? You've always wanted me. You want to have your filthy way with me in the hot desert sun. Ravage me like I've never been ravaged before." Clearly, he just pointed out the lust in the loft.

Directed by Michael Mayer (Head Over Heels), despite the use of matches lighting cigarettes and a confidential note, the real fire in Burn This lies in the search to find the burning passion in life.

Burn This

Hudson Theatre
139 - West 44th Street. NYC
Previews: Mar.15, 2019. Opening: April 16, 2019. Closing: July 14, 2019
Running Time: Two hours, 30 min. One intermission.
Cast: Keri Russell, Adam Driver, David Furr, Brandon Uranowitz
Directed: Michael Mayer

Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors, April 2019

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