Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Up in Smoke

April 21, 2011

Zabryna Guevara and Adam Rothenberg Photo: Craig Schwartz/CTG 2011

Given that his plays have never been absent from American stages, it was inevitable that a revival of one of Lanford Wilson's many important works would coincide with his untimely death at age 73 last month. Thus, Burn This arrived at The Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles at an opportune time to remind us all of Wilson’s great gifts as a playwright. Or at least it could have. But sadly, this particular revival of Wilson’s late 80s romantic-dramedy never catches fire. It’s not a big production, involving only four characters. A young dancer, Anna, and her roommate, Larry, mourn the death of their fellow roommate, Robbie, a dancer who has died in a boating accident. They are soon rudely interrupted by the intrusion of Robbie’s drug-addled, anxiety-ridden brother, Pale, and a clandestine romance between him and Anna is initiated right under the nose of Anna’s long-time writer boyfriend Burton. Burn This is a somewhat ephemeral play whose energy rests almost entirely on instantaneous chemistry between characters that are not obviously complementary. Pale is a foul-mouthed drunkard when he meets Anna, and yet she bonds with him in their grief and soon succumbs to an unexpected physical attraction.

In this instance, not only Anna but the audience as well must be seduced by Pale on some level, which this time around, fails to materialize. Adam Rothenberg and Zabryna Guevara play the unexpected lovers, but under Nicholas Martin’s direction their interaction seems obtuse and mysterious. Pale comes off as more threatening than charming while Anna reads as more ambivalent than grief stricken leaving many in the audience wondering what this is all about. The performances themselves are quite good and thought out, they just seem to belong to different plays. Probably the most purely satisfying performance in the show is stage veteran Brooks Ashmanskas as Larry, the gay roommate who serves largely as initiator of comic relief is this universe. On Tuesday when I saw the show, Ashmanskas provided one of the most dramatic moments in the evening when he broke character heading into a scene change in Act II to approach the foot of the stage and verbally chastise a rude couple who apparently had been talking throughout the play so far with a “We can hear you up here, you know.” But as much as I love watching rude audience members being publicly humiliated, it was a somewhat empty victory here amidst a show that by that point had grown tedious.

Burn This is certainly filled with some relatively juicy dramatic roles and has been a favorite of actors for all of its existence. But since its debut in 1987, the play has picked up some sludge and sounds dated. The wistful descriptions of casual sexual encounters and long faces in response to the implication of the AIDS crisis that was raging through the New York communities these characters come out of seem rather precious in hindsight. It's the kind of thing that makes you remember exactly why folks like Larry Kramer were so angry to begin with. But to be fair, Burn This is not a history lesson, its a play about being truthful to your passions. It's a shame the current revival at the Mark Taper Forum doesn't inspire more of that in its audiences.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?



Opera Reviews '10-'11

Opera Reviews '09-'10

Opera Reviews '06-'09

L.A. Phil Reviews '09/'10

L.A. Phil Reviews '08/'09

L.A. Theater Reviews


Follow Along


Los Angeles

Follow me on Twitter