*Burn This,* 4/30/19
Jere, Dale, and I saw *Burn This* on Broadway on 4/30/19. This is the poster in my local subway station:
It’s a play by Lanford Wilson from 1987, this is the first time it’s being revived on Broadway. It reminded me a bit of *The Big Chill* because in both cases the central character is dead and never appears. In *Burn This* he’s a dancer named Robbie, who I’ll call The Dead Guy The four other characters are his roommate Anna (played by Keri Russell), who I’ll call The Girl - - his other roommate Larry (played by Brandon Uranowitz), who I’ll call The Gay - - Robbie’s brother Pale (played by Adam Driver), who I’ll call The Brother - - and Anna’s boyfriend Burton (played by David Furr), who I’ll call The Boyfriend. My apologies for calling those two characters The Girl and The Gay, but the play had such a strong feeling of the 80s, it seems only fitting.
The play starts with The Girl and The Gay having just come back to town from The Dead Guy’s funeral. The Boyfriend is also there, and they tell him all about it. The first half hour of the show was purely exposition, the three characters telling each other what had happened, what was going on, and also showing us everything we need to know about them and how they relate to each other. I’d never seen a show that dealt with the exposition in such a clunky way. It was like Wilson had a bullet list of the things he felt he needed to cover and then assigned those things to the three characters onstage. It was clunky, it was amateurish, it was bald.
The play took flight when The Brother came on, though his actual entrance was rather implausible. As Jere said, it’s the 80s, she lives in Greenwich Village, she wouldn’t hear someone banging on her door at 5:30 AM and just let him in. But his character has an interesting energy and way of talking, which Driver did very well, it was exciting. And he and Russell had a tangible chemistry. Director Michael Mayer clearly had a strong feeling about the dynamics between these two characters.
This was Russell’s Broadway debut. I wasn’t bothered by her at first, I thought the problem with her performance was with the writing - - but Jere pointed out, in the intermission, that she seemed to be overprojecting her voice and overarticulating her words. I hadn’t noticed the effort, but once he pointed it out, it was all I could see. Her background is in television, so it makes sense that she’s be concerned about that, but she needs to do more stage work before she seems truly at home and at ease.
I don’t have much to say about David Furr as The Boyfriend, mostly because his part is so underwritten. He’s basically a foil to The Brother. He played the role with an easy charisma.
The best performance was by Brandon Uranowitz as The Gay. He never gave the impression of Giving a Performance, though he was wonderfully theatrical. He simply embodied the wry charm of his character, his intelligence, his sweet disdain.
The biggest problem with the play was this: it’s a romantic drama but you DON’T want the couple to end up together. The Girl says that they’re all wrong for each other, and she doesn’t like The Brother, she wants him to leave and not come back, and you agree with her! You don’t want them to work it out and come to a deeper understanding of each other.
Maybe it made more sense with the original cast, with Joan Allen and John Malkovich in those roles. I can understand why the play was a hit in the 80s but can’t understand why you would want to do it again. It hasn’t stood the test of time like *The Real Thing,* nor is it an interesting period piece like *Hurlyburly* (both plays from 1984). I suspect that *Burn This* is just not very good.