note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Anna … Mara Sidmore
Burton … Richard La France
Larry … Adam Soule
Pale … Joshua Rollins
Lanford Wilson’s BURN THIS, a lady-and-the-tramp love story, plays much better than it reads: what seems flat on the printed page grows into layered life in the gradual bonding between Anna, a New York dancer, and Pale, the older brother of one of her roommates, now dead along with his partner in a freak boating accident. Anna, described by her surviving roommate Larry as having lead a protected life (left unexplained), is attracted and repelled by the emotionally flammable Pale which in turn leaves her semi-steady Burton out in the cold. I was moved by the Anna-Pale relationship and wish them well though part of me counters with, “There’s something about a Bad Boy….” (The play’s title comes from Burton: “Make it personal, tell the truth, and then write “Burn this” on it.” --- advice that Larry puts to matchmaking use.)
On the afternoon I attended the Devanaughn Theatre production, the audience barely outnumbered the actors which was a shame for it is really quite good; its current glow would be fanned to a blaze with a fuller house. I have previously seen Mara Sidmore only in smaller roles and ‘tis grand to see her now take the spotlight; she reminds me of an alley cat with a broken leg, vulnerable and defiant, yet pleading with her eyes for shelter from the storm; Anna is the perfect role to contain her sufferings --- now that I have seen Ms. Sidmore in full bloom, I hope that she will be cast in lighter, happier roles as well and become an entertainer as well as a modern-day tragedienne. (Though she makes no attempt to dance for the audience, Ms. Sidmore convinces with her body language --- observe the way she stretches or reclines or flexes her bare feet: these are dancer’s movements.) As Pale, Joshua Rollins is the show’s even bigger surprise, coming on strong after his dimmed performance in last year’s CREDEAUX CANVAS; he may be doing Stanley Kowalski, here, New Jersey style, but he steals every scene he is in, so fagedaboutit. (Separately, Ms. Sidmore and Mr. Rollins have bared themselves for their art; ironically, together, their love scenes are child-safe.) Richard La France is a bland, likeable Burton but, then, so is the role, and Adam Soule, as Anna’s good fairy, needs some lemon mixed in with his sugar --- Larry’s wisecracks are pure Eve Arden (children, ask your parents) yet during the numerous confrontations I kept glancing over at Mr. Soule watching from the sidelines --- again, it doesn’t show on the page, but having Larry simply there not only sheds a protective light on Anna but also makes their loft a living, breathing household.
Cameron Willard’s subtle transformation of the Devanaughn’s exposed-brick-and-pipes interior into a converted New York loft is a screaming success; Rose Carlson’s direction may be slack at times (especially before Pale bursts in) but her choice of moody vocals is inspired --- the type of songs to listen to at 3 in the morning while looking out a loft window, alone, at the East River.