note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Anna . Anne Torsiglieri
Burton . Brian Hutchinson
Larry . Nat DeWolf
Paul . Michael T. Weiss
Lanford Wilson's BURN THIS, now playing at the Huntington, is a lady-and-the-tramp love story between Anna, a New York dancer/choreographer, and Pale, the mysterious 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 led a protected life (left unexplained), is attracted/repelled by the emotionally flammable Pale which in turn leaves her semi-steady Burton out in the cold. (The play's title comes from Burton, a rich-boy screenwriter: "Make it personal, tell the truth, and then write "Burn this" on it." --- advice that Larry puts to matchmaking use.) BURN THIS plays like a well-written first draft which accounts for its jazzy, improvisational feel but until (and even after) Pale arrives well into Act One to shake up things audiences might wonder where all the quirky talk, talk, talk is leading to. Having seen the intimate Devanaughn Theatre production at the Piano Factory, last April, I wished Anna and Pale well; after attending the arm's-length evening at the Huntington, I now wonder about their future together as they are so apple-and-orange --- still, if Pale can divorce his wife, overcome his homophobia, give up drugs and alcohol, ditch the handgun, work on that ulcer and stop being so possessive, he and Anna just might have a chance (the play was written in pre-Giuliani New York, before gentrification and a citywide clean-up began, plus Anna's making it with a near-total stranger must have seemed doubly exciting with the AIDS epidemic breaking out, nationwide; set in today's present, BURN THIS now seems otherworldly). And Mr. Wilson lingers over the Larry-Burton relationship with the former mock-lusting after the latter who is not uncomfortable at such adulation and who openly admits to having once been fellated in a snowy doorway but Mr. Wilson chooses to keep Larry in safe, non-threatening mode, looking on and cracking à la Eve Arden and as any child will tell you, the Best Friend never gets laid in these stories.
Susan Fenichell's direction is, for the most part, invisible --- that is a compliment --- though now and then the actors wander about just to show how three-dimensional James Noone's vast, cold setting really is; one movement just doesn't make sense: upon his entrance, Pale wanders upstairs so he can dominate from above; when he is back on ground level, he asks which room was his late brother's --- Anna indicates the second landing and Pale approaches the stairs in wonder; the very stairs he had just been up only minutes ago. The Anna-Larry relationship is the evening's true love story in its mutual support and affection; Anne Torsiglieri begins the evening shrilly as Anna then calms down but continues to character-paint with a limited palette and Nat DeWolf double and triple underlines as a Larry who is always "on" (I wouldn't want to be around when he burns and crashes); Mara Sidmore (Ms. Torsiglieri's understudy) and Adam Soule made a touching sister-and-brother act for the Devanaughn, in comparison. Burton, as written, is both nice guy and hunk, and Brian Hutchison amiably fills enough of the bill. The role of Pale is a collection of Method tics and twitches which needs some bedrock to tie it all together; Michael T. Weiss is content to do a stand-up turn, instead, giving little sense of a man who is a good guy at heart despite being a walking disaster area nor is there any particular chemistry between him and his Anna. Once I accepted the Huntington evening as a New York-type of production --- the kind of hard, slick entertainment you tend to see on Broadway --- I rather enjoyed it but it might have been better served in the company's new, smaller digs at the BCA; after all, its production of SONIA FLEW was staged there rather nicely and that show had two characters more. The Devanaughn production may have been uneven but you can't beat a four-character play being performed only a few feet away from you in a small brick room --- there are many beauties that a simple close-up can capture that a long-shot, no matter how professionally executed, cannot.
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