'Burning'

The New Group seems to have taken Thomas Bradshaw's semi-pornographic play "Burning" very seriously, and they would probably like us to do likewise.

The New Group seems to have taken Thomas Bradshaw’s semi-pornographic play “Burning” very seriously, and they would probably like us to do likewise. But the episodic plot, which loosely hangs on the coming of age of a teenage hustler, is wide open to ridicule, and the characters are one step up from cartoons. The players in Scott Elliott’s lugubrious production solemnly shed their clothes and play their graphically simulated sex scenes without cracking a smile. But it’s an effort for the rest of us to keep from howling at the pretensions of this softcore porn show.

The first chapter of this sex fantasy opens in 1983, as a 14-year-old hustler named Chris (Evan Johnson) is talking his way into the household of Jack (Andrew Garman), a successful New York actor, and his partner, Simon (Danny Mastrogiorgio), a Broadway producer.

Garman and Mastrogiorgio give these silly old queens a certain dignity, although that probably won’t matter much to voyeurs who just want to identify with them when the not-so-innocent Chris enthusiastically embraces his role as their sex toy. But kids are bound to grow up, and in due time Chris leaves his loving “parents” for a playwright named Donald (Adam Trese).

Bradshaw makes a clumsy attempt to include a grown-up Chris (Hunter Foster) in a parallel scenario set in the present day. But the story really hangs on the sexual education of a black painter named Peter (Stephen Tyrone Williams) who is given a one-man show at an important Berlin art gallery. (Jeff Biehl does such good work in the minor role of a gallery curator, it’s a dirty shame he was passed over for a sex scene.)

Once in Berlin, Peter runs afoul of Michael (Drew Hildebrand), a rival painter and a neo-Nazi who has an unhealthy relationship with his handicapped 16-year-old sister, Katrin (Reyna de Courcy). Oblivious to the whole Nazi thing — and forgetting he has a (white) wife back home — Peter is swept away in the permissive sexual climate and falls madly in love with a Sudanese sex worker.

Anyone who’s been following the plot so far should be able to see the wealth of possibilities for hook-ups, which the creatives would prefer to think of as “searing and graphic tales of self-invention and sexual identity.”

In the early scenes we’re treated to the relatively straightforward combinations of Jack and Simon; Jack and Simon and Chris; and Chris and Donald. But as the play advances, the logistics become more complicated, especially for Peter, who has both a wife and a mistress to service.

For the record, all the simulated sex scenes have been handsomely lighted (by Peter Kaczorowski), and a noticeable bit of artistry went into the smoothly staged scenes between that scary skinhead and his creepy sister. Which might suggest that anyone with a favorite sex fantasy would have no trouble finding someone to stage it.

Burning

The New Group@Theater Row;199 seats; $60 top

Production

A New Group presentation of a play in two acts by Thomas Bradshaw. Directed by Scott Elliott.

Creative

Sets, Derek McLane; costumes, Clint Ramos; lighting, Peter Kaczorowski; projections, Wendall K. Harrington; production stage manager, Valerie A. Peterson. Opened Nov. 14, 2011. Reviewed Nov. 9. Running time: 2 HOURS, 45 MIN.

Cast

Paul, et al. - Jeff Biehl
Katrin - Reyna de Courcy
Gretchen - Barrett Doss
Older Chris - Hunter Foster
Jack - Andrew Garman
Michael - Drew Hildebrand
Chris - Evan Johnson
Simon - Danny Mastrogiorgio
Noah - Andrew Polk
Josephine - Larisa Polonsky
Donald - Adam Trese
Franklin - Vladimir Versailles
Peter - Stephen Tyrone Williams

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