A brilliant young male dancer has died. Tragically. In a freak boating accident with his lover Dom at the beginning of Lanford Wilson’ Burn This currently being revived at the beautiful Hudson Theatre on Broadway. We learn this from his two close friends and roommates, Anna and Larry, played with a compelling camaraderie by Keri Russell (Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig, FX’s ‘The Americans‘) and Brandon Uranowitz (Broadway’s Falsettos). They are curled up sweetly on an old couch in their spectacular loft apartment in New York City, a flat that I couldn’t help but be envious of, especially with those windows and that view. Everything was wrong with the funeral, she says, having ventured out-of-state to attend the event, particularly after finding herself being cast by the family as the grieving widowed girl friend. “Those people“, she cries, “didn’t even know him“. “They never even saw him dance” she adds. and Robbie, the unseen ghost that haunts their expansive studio, she says, would have hated it all.
I, on the other hand, didn’t hate it all; the revival, that is. It’s not a perfect rendering, but with Adam Driver (Broadway’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Spike Lee’s “BlacKKKlansman“) as Pale, the evening is thrilling, and the conversations on fire. He’s as compelling and fascinating as you would hope, but with Anna in the arms of Russell, working a bit too hard as if someone told her to remember to project and enunciate, which she does, in abundance, one-third of the love triangle +1 feels unsteady and off track. It’s missing the firecracker feminine flame to keep the candle flickering bright, leaving the note crumbled, but not burnt.
As directed with comic openness and elasticity by Michael Mayer (Broadway’s Head over Heels, Hedwig), the band of four are forced by tragedy to find a way to make sense of their enmeshed lives by untangling their identities and complicated emotional relationships. Russell’s Anna and Uranowitz’s Larry have undeniable kinship chemistry, with Uranowitz stealing the focus with every perfectly attuned line spoken. He’s on gay-fire with his comic and emotional timing, playing the roommate/friend part to perfection without overselling it and falling into the trap of insulting stereotypes.
Russell on the other hand, looking gorgeous in costumes by Clint Ramos (Broadway’s Once on this Island) giving us ‘sexy as hell’ with that great gravely voice, feels a bit stifled and awkwardly straight-forward, never finding the authenticity in her vodka glass. It’s a shame, as she has a great David Furr (Roundabout’s Noises Off) to bounce off of as the longterm boyfriend, Burton, as privileged as a man could be. His loss is as surprising and as cutting as theirs, messing with his understanding of the world, possibly in a way he has needed to happen for far too long. The men around Russell are making all this dramatic redesigning look easy, especially Driver, who scores at every pitch and fall. He’s forceful and unhinged, both emotionally and dramatically. And even though his part is a dream of inconsistencies and manic play, Driver finds some compelling and unique dynamics to dig in to, sadly, making Russell’s choices pale in comparison to his Pale.
Lanford Wilson’s (Fifth of July) icon play first opened Off-Broadway on February 19, 1987 at Theatre 890 directed by Marshall W. Mason, with a cast that featured such powerhouses as Joan Allen, John Malkovich, Jonathan Hogan, and Lou Liberatore. That production sits in my mind as one of those theatrical moments that I wish I had been around to see. I was in New York City for the play’s revival in 2002 at the Union Square Theatre featuring Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Ty Burrell, and Dallas Roberts; Wow, is all I can say. Sadly, I was too confused and enthusiastically stupid to have made it there. I have the slightest memory of my friend suggesting it, somewhat, although in that memory I thought it was with Rául Esparza who starred (now he’d be a treat in the Pale part). What a firework show that would have been. Take your pick which, but to see those actors as these characters falter and form, dancing the dance of death and grief, reborn into change and enlightenment, through pain, hurt, loneliness, and love, would have been, I image, as gorgeously captivating as that apartment.
Figuring it all out within that beautiful dance studio of a flat in downtown Manhattan, courtesy of the amazing scenic designer Derek McLane (Boston/Broadway Bound Moulin Rouge!), with picture perfect lighting by Natasha Katz (Broadway’s The Prom), and solid sound by David Van Tieghem (Broadway’s Heisenberg), these three invigorating men and one determined woman try to find that cold blast of air from those windows to pull them out of their grief, shock, and stuck-ness. Within that battle, courtesy of some solid fight directing by S. Steven White (Broadway’s The Pirate Queen), Anna and crew find direction and clarity through action and frustration. It’s subtle and not fully fleshed out or convincing by all accounts, especially in the dance of this particular Anna and her incredibly powerful Pale, but the moves are felt throughout regardless, and change seeps in through the window cracks to enliven their souls.
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