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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
BURN THIS
at Hudson Theatre

FADED FLAME
By ROBERT CASHILL

  David Furr, Keri Russell and Brandon Uranowitz/ Ph: Matthew Murphy

Lanford Wilson’s Burn This – which in 1987 consolidated John Malkovich’s stardom, won Joan Allen a Tony Award in her Broadway debut and ran for 437 performances – has cooled down over the decades. Edward Norton and Catherine Keener were evenly matched in its Off Broadway revival in 2002, locked in its torments of grief and love, but the material had lost its topical charge. For it to work today it needed to be electrifying. What’s onstage at the Hudson, however, are embers that do little except smolder from time to time.
 
Part of it is the play, which opened a window onto a lower Manhattan riven by the AIDS epidemic and other anxieties. But Wilson opened it only a crack (the disease goes unnamed), and now that it’s unaffordable for young strivers, that shabby loft apartment that two characters live in looks pretty good today. They are Anna (Keri Russell), a dancer and aspiring choreographer, and Larry (Brandon Uranowitz), who works in advertising. A third roommate, Robbie, who was Anna’s dance collaborator, has died in a boating accident. While Larry, who like Robbie is gay, wisecracks in the way homosexual supporting characters did in plays back then, Anna picks up the pieces by trying hard not to pick up the pieces. She consoles herself in a convenient, not-all-that-intimate relationship with her financially secure writer boyfriend, Burton (David Furr) … and so it might go if not for the seismic intrusion of Pale (Adam Driver), Robbie’s brother, an uncouth restaurant manager from the other side of the tracks (i.e. lumpen New Jersey). Pale, who has come for his brother’s belongings, can’t make sense of Robbie’s death or his milieu, and scrambles Anna’s complacency as he darts in and out of her life.
 
Most of it, alas, is the playing. Driver, a New York stage veteran, and Russell, a Broadway rookie, co-star in the next Star Wars installment, but this star war is lopsided in Driver’s favor, which is unfortunate. Striding across Derek McLane’s set like an unmade bed on two legs, Driver has elected to bring the funny, and little else. On The Americans, Russell may have been a performer of many faces, but with Pale’s profane antics lacking any moth-to-the-flame danger, her Anna is benumbed by her crude, prejudiced houseguest rather than titillated, and her decision to bed the oversized lummox after a volley of late-night insults about “faggots” and so on is incoherent. Going for laughs has a domino effect on director Michael Mayer’s staging. Slackly paced to begin with (too much time is spent with Larry, a caricature, and Burton, well-played by Furr, but we aren’t here to see his story), the play tumbles into sitcom, complete with periodic barrages of 80s hits that further dull its ability to speak to us a generation later. Incendiary then, Burn This is an odd little campfire tale now.

 


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