Thursday, April 18, 2019

Burn This

I've liked Lanford Wilson's plays although it's been some time since I saw one until catching Burn This in New York recently. The earlier dramas Talley's Folly and The Fifth of July were set in the Midwest, Missouri, where I believe Wilson came from. To me, he demonstrated an ability to get beneath the surfaces that usually keep any two people who think they may be in love as well as all of us from understanding each other.

Although I hadn't had the chance to read much about this play--which had premiered on Broadway 32 years ago with John Malkovich--the presence of Keri Russell in one of the two leading roles made it attractive to both of us. She had been the key character in the cable series, The Americans, for several years. In that she was outstanding in conveying the many issues her character, a Soviet spy implanted in the U.S. with a husband provided by the KGB, with whom she has had two children.

This play puts her in another complex role. Anna is a dancer now turned choreographer. Others in the play attest to her talent but she is insecure in her new work, especially since her prime colleague, also a dancer, has just drowned in what clearly had been an avoidable accident. On top of this, she is trying to decide whether to pursue a relationship with a successful writer who seems enamoured with her.

A major complication bursts onto the scene when the dead man's brother, Jimmy, who wants to be called Pale, bursts into her Soho living space, which she shares with a congenial gay man. He is from the Midwest and is very assertive, if not dominating. She is affronted by his attitudes and behavior, yet it is clear that he has lit a spark in her that had not been there before.

Adam Driver plays him, and he's good, whether or not he proves to be as exciting a performer as Malkovich. The play does give both him and Russell the chance to expose their feelings as well as their challenges and attitudes. I found it both entertaining as well as providing a lot to think about. Russell's character, Anna, also complicated, because while she is fully engaged in the dance world and cherishes her friends, she is clearly open to something more. One gradually realizes that the more predictable route to happiness wed to the writer might not give that to her.

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