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A fire fueled by powerful emotions
By DEBBIE FORMAN
BOSTON - The first act does burn, full of heat and temper, angst and anger. But the second act of Lanford Wilson's 1987 "Burn This" takes a sharp turn and becomes rather sweet and poignant, winsome and wistful. The mood is so different, you almost feel the second act is a separate play. But perhaps you need the storm of those earlier scenes as a contrast to the calm at the end.
When the play opens, Anna is mourning the death of her dance partner and roommate Robbie. Her anger at his untimely drowning death explodes. She is furious with everyone, especially his family, who, she can hardly believe, never saw him dance, and, even worse, doesn't even want to know about it. Robbie was a "brilliant" dancer and all his life's possibilities have now become impossible.
When Robbie's brother, Pale, blows into Anna's loft apartment, his frenzy of frustration and guilt, makes her emotion look small. Fueled by booze and drugs, Pale storms at everything. He hates the city, the parking problems, the view of the river from the loft, and, perhaps most of all, his brother's homosexuality, clearly an embarrassment to him and his family.
Despite Pale's fury, Anna is attracted to him. Perhaps she sees in Pale what she loved about Robbie, and with Pale, a sexual relationship is possible. So the two ignite in a powerful emotion. But the next morning, Pale, married with children, goes off, and Anna nonchalantly acts the liberated woman and contains her feelings.
In the second act, Anna and Pale come to terms with their grief. She begins to choreograph a new dance, and he finally settles down into a likeable guy, who knows how to cook and has other redeemable traits. And, we find out, his marriage has been bad for years.
Susan Fenichell directs this Huntington Theatre Company production with a vibrant understanding of the power of love and hate. Although the outpouring of emotion in the first act feels somewhat self-indulgent, after the second act, you begin to appreciate its necessity as the process that brings you to the heartfelt peace of the play's conclusion.
Wilson - who also wrote "The Hot l Baltimore, "Fifth of July" and "Tally's Folly" - is known for his strong narrative work that emphasizes the poignancy of human emotion. Although, he takes a while to get to this point in "Burn This," he does leave you feeling the pathos in the relationship between Anna and Pale.
Michael T. Weiss is likely to blow you away with his powerful portrayal of Pale. He wildly takes over the stage in the first act, bellowing his anger and disappointment. He seems a selfish bully; you don't like him and wonder what Anna sees in him. But in the second act, the gentleness and yearning he brings to the role win you over. It is a multifaceted performance of great depth.
Anne Torsiglieri plays Anna with a sensitive awareness of her character's ambivalence and confusion. We understand Anna's pain at her loss and her struggle for achievement. She could take the easy road and marry her rich boyfriend, Burton, but instead she falls for the angst-ridden, uncontrollable Pale.
Nat DeWolf is terrific as Anna's gay roommate Larry, who is a wry commentator on the sultry scene before him. DeWolf brings humor to the play with his deadpan comments. He is the voice of reason without being judgmental, and is perhaps the most likeable of the characters. Brian Hutchison is engaging as Burton, the almost perfect guy you're rooting for to win the love of Anna.
James Noone's set of a spare and untidy New York loft captures the unsettled mood of this disaffected foursome.
Although the play exudes the restiveness of the 1980s, it doesn't seem very far away from our own time. The emotions portrayed are real and, we humans are eternally wrestling with those same irrationalities and difficult choices.
What: "Burn This"
Presented by: Huntington Theatre Company
When: Through Dec. 12
Where: Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston
Box office: 617-266-0800
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