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Burn This

a Drama
by Lanford Wilson

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 918

SHOWING : April 29, 2004 - June 05, 2004



A dangerous, sexy and surprising romance by one of America's modern master playwrights.

Anna, a Manhattan dancer/choreographer, is mourning the death of her dance partner, Robbie, when his brother, Pale, abruptly bursts into her loft drunk and belligerent in the middle of the night. Pale, married with two children, is the antithesis to his sensitive brother: coarse, insulting, and honest to a fault. Where there's smoke, well, the flames of this incendiary and unlikely romance will leave you breathless.

Burn This is an explosive, turbulent and funny play about transcending our deepest fears and doubts. Lanford Wilson's defiant title echoes his characters' search for authenticity and love in their increasingly insincere world.

"Burn This is neither a straight play nor a gay one (or perhaps it's the first play that's truly both straight and gay), a comedy that laughs at its own tragic roots, a love story in which the lovers are scared to death of one another, a play about art in which the strongest sensibility belongs to a character who looks upon artists as fraud . . .The play has a voracious vitality and an almost manic determination to drive right into the highest voltage that life can register."
-- Newsweek

Cast Megan Monaghan
Stage Manager Anne Stainback
Horst Mitchell Anderson
Rudy Steven Emanuelson
Max Daniel May
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


by troyhill
Friday, June 25, 2004
It is very interesting to me when I see reviews that vary so greatly, especially when one of them seems the polar opposite of my own thoughts. I saw the play in the latter stages of the run, and couldn't disagree more with Dedalus on this one. Wilson is a fantastic playwright in a Williams style pressure cooker kind of way. I didn't write a complete review for procrastination reasons, but after reading this review, I was stunned into writing something at least.

The production I (and apparently green2u) saw failed in the very place you saw success, the Pale-Anna dynamic that wasn't dynamic at all. Barrett's performance seemed disingenuous and unfocused. There was no hint of real emotional history with Pale's brother which would inform the attraction to Pale. May's performance was muddy as well. There were so many times the ranting just sounded like unintelligible, and worse, meaningless, white noise. The two moments of physical altercation between Pale and Burton were laughably awful, especially when one of those involved is supposed to be into the martial arts. It's a lesson that even seemingly brief and easy moments can benefit from a fight choreographer. Freddy Ashley created the only interesting, multi-dimensional character in the show.

The lights were sometimes treated as actual lights turned on and off by characters, and other times were shut off "supernaturally" leaving the characters to awkwardly wander away from the scene. That inconsistency was a major distraction from the flow of the piece. Anna's wig and the costumes were terrible. A wealthy man's tux with beat up 70's thrift store zip up boots? A Gone With the Wind looking ball gown for New Year's in NYC? The set was fine, but the direction within it led to long, excruciatingly slow scene changes while waiting for characters to slink on and off (see also: lighting) casting soap opera glances in this direction or that.

Well, that's why we go isn't it? We're all different, so the experiences will be different. It's puzzling to me when the experiences seem so drastically incongruous, but I love that it's possible. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Idea for a New Reality Show by Dedalus
I can see it now -- each week two folks with polarized views on something slug it out! We can call it "Did We REALLY See the Same Play?"

Seriously, this may be a good point to discuss -- if I, as an audience member-- respond emotionally to what's going on on stage, do I overlook or ignore inconsistencies or anachronisms? On the other hand, does nitpicking arise from a failure to respond emotionally to what's happening on stage? And, is this response, the job of the actor or the audience member or some indescribable and unmeasurable alchemic combination of everything (not least of which is how drowsy am I the audience member)?

Food for thought ....
Playing It Safe
by Dedalus
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
It’s been almost three weeks since Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This” closed at Actor’s Express, and I still have no idea how I’m going to craft my thoughts on seeing it. I began writing “reviews” almost five years ago (only then I called it “keeping a play-going journal”) mostly as a means to clarify my thoughts on acting, design, directing, and dramaturgy. Then, as now, theatre has been an avocation for me, not a vocation, and my naïve belief was that writing about others’ efforts would refine and, eventually define my own.

Before, this was a “safe” exercise. Being written for my own benefit, I could gush and/or bitch about anyone or everything, friend and stranger, amateur and professional, and not worry about consequences. If I had any sense, I would have written “In Case of My Death, Burn This” on the cover of my journal.

Now, of course, other people read what I write. Now, I have to be very careful to maintain that “safety” I enjoyed. The paradoxical thing is, now my journal (even more than before) helps me to define myself as a creature of the theatre, whatever that means. Now, my thoughts need to take into account how they will affect those who read them. This has made me realize how little outright “gushing and/or bitching” contributed to my original goals – reading some of my journals now, I see I was venting, not considering.

All this is a very self-centered and roundabout way of getting to the discussion on “Burn This.” To be honest, I went into this play predisposed to like it. It’s been my favorite Lanford Wilson play since I first read it, primarily because the love in it originates from a place of pain, and eventually becomes deeper and more affecting because of that. I always saw Pale as an actor’s dream of a role because of the challenge of making the two aspects of him seem unified – the Drunk of earlier scenes exuding danger and theatrical excess, and the introspective and pained Soul of the last scene.

The production at Actor’s Express not only fulfilled my expectations of the play, but made me see aspects and subtleties I never absorbed from my few readings of the script. Unlike the other reviewer on this site, I believed the danger in Daniel May’s performance, and I believed in the attraction between him and Cynthia Barrett. I agree that this is critical to the success of this play. My different reaction may be due to my having missed John Malkovich’s performance, or it could be due to a deepening of the on-stage inter-reactions over the course of the run (I saw it during the final weekend). I prefer to think it is the latter case.

I started this review with a recap of my reasons for writing criticism because it leads so neatly into what this play is about. Anna and her friends live in an emotionally safe little world. Even the death she so mourns is safe because her relationship with Robbie never threatened her, never made her lower the walls that kept her in her “comfort zone.” It is a credit to this cast that even her relationship with Burton seems safe, despite the mixed-race aspect of it. And when her rejection of Burton comes, his anger is “safe” – it comes across, in this production, as a man displaying what he thinks is expected of him – safe.

Pale bursts into this cozy little world like a steaming nerve end. He challenges everyone’s sense of safety, everyone’s sense of self, and stirs a place in Anna she never realized needed to be stirred. The irony of the play, something I first realized when I saw this production, is that Pale’s excess, his “danger,” is only his own “safe” place. It is when he becomes sober in the last scene that he too is able to access that “core” person he had been protecting.

Everything about this production worked for me. The set didn’t look like a set – it looked as if we, the audience, had been moved into this loft. The intimacy of all the performances and the staging was just right. I especially liked the beginning of the last scene, with Pale and Anna unable to see each other, creating a suspense that was built to exactly the right pitch and was broken at exactly the right moment. This scene, all about the final tearing down of walls, was moving and believable and exactly what was needed for both characters, and for us, their voyeurs.

This was one of the best productions of the year, and I am so sorry I couldn’t focus my thoughts in time to convince any of you the need to see this show. But once again, I was trying to “play it safe.” Obviously, there is no need to Burn This review.

Where's the danger?
by green2u
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Perhaps it was because the last play I saw at AE was the devastating The Goat or Who is Sylvia? or maybe it was because I saw John Malkovich as Pale many years ago--but, unlike those two theatrical experiences, the danger was missing from this production of Burn This. The stakes were simply not high enough for me to care about anyone.

Daniel May (as Pale), a fine actor (and I look forward to seeing him in AE's upcoming Bent) still comes off lightweight and pretty boy Hugh Grant-ish despite the mop head and facial hair. No danger here though he gave it the old college try. And I never grasped where Cynthia Barrett's Anna was going nor that she had really delved into the history of her character, the relationship with Pale's dead brother, and what that meant to her attraction (or need to be attracted) to Pale. but I don't totally fault the actors: one major problem for me was chemistry: May and Barrett have none together. And without chemistry, Burn This never catches fire. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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