Alibi V.25 No.38 • Sept 22-28, 2016 

Theater Review

The Devouring Heat of Love

Aux Dog's provocative production of Burn This

Burn This
Russell Maynor

As the lights come up in the first act of Burn This at Aux Dog Theatre, the audience meets Anna, a dancer crumpled in despair on the sofa, under an afghan, a bottle of vodka and a glass to keep her company. She is in the midst of mourning Robbie, her collaborator, friend and roommate, who recently drowned in a tragic boating accident. While Robbie's death sets in motion the conflicts at the heart of Burn This, it is, as ever, romance that is the cutting centerpiece of this play, authored nigh on 30 years ago by Pulitizer Prize winner Lanford Wilson.

Enter Pale, Robbie's hopped-up older brother—a force of nature played brilliantly by Martin Andrews—who rips down the genteel facade of uptown New York with every tirade (and there are many). Andrews' performance threatens to incinerate everyone and everything within shouting distance of the stage. Amid the spare but effective set that is both dance studio and apartment, an unlikely love triangle unfolds between Anna, Pale and Anna's well-heeled boyfriend, Burton, whom it is clear she feels ambivalent about. As the story unfolds, it becomes the telling of a tug-o-war between career and romance, sensibility and passion. The tension is untangled skillfully by director Lee Kitts as well as the small cast. Just as memorable as Andrews' Pale is the wry and perceptive character of Larry, who also lived with Anna and Robbie. Played by Isaac Christie with charisma in spades, Larry delivers some of the most memorable and affecting of Wilson's lines; the stage lit up when Christie was on it, and he and Anna (who it should also be mentioned was played deftly by Aleah Montano) have brilliant interaction.

The direction of the play consistently favors investigation of the trauma, pleasure and struggle of the characters—and that is what makes Burn This fascinating. The urgency with which each character searches for their unique true north isn't as diluted as Wilson's resolution, and that is a testament to the talent of the cast and crew.

Something of a love letter to bad boys and those entangled with them, I was left a little incensed by the subtext of the play. Anna is the reluctant recipient of Pale's animal attentions, and despite flat-out saying (more than once!) “I don't like you,” and later, “You frighten me,” her words are ignored, and the suitor forces himself upon her until she finally accepts the affection of alcoholic, homophobic, always-punching-things Pale. In this way, the play was watered down to a sentimental love story, lacking the richness and complexity that it felt like the story was building toward.

The headaches of the writing are navigated as best they can be in this production at the high caliber Aux Dog. The direction of the play consistently favors investigation of the trauma, pleasure and struggle of the characters—and that is what makes Burn This fascinating. The urgency with which each character searches for their unique true north isn't as diluted as Wilson's resolution, and that is a testament to the talent of the cast and crew. If you can ignore the bow that is sloppily tied at the end and aren't triggered by a bitter dose of violent patriarchal nonsense, Burn This can be the starting point for vital post-play dialogue on all sorts of topics.

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