You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Burn This

When Lanford Wilson introduced "Burn This" in 1987, mourning was a way of life for many overwhelmed by the devastation caused by AIDS, especially in the artistic community. Though the disease is not part of Wilson's narrative, a profound ache of loss permeates the play as it explores how grief can immobilize the body and desensitize the heart.

Anna - Anne Torsiglieri Burton - Brian Hutchison Larry - Nat DeWolf Pale - Michael T. Weiss

When Lanford Wilson introduced “Burn This” in 1987, mourning was a way of life for many overwhelmed by the devastation caused by AIDS, especially in the artistic community. Though the disease is not part of Wilson’s narrative (Robbie, a gay dancer, and his lover die in a boating accident), a profound ache of loss permeates the play as it explores how grief can immobilize the body and desensitize the heart.

The two leading characters — Robbie’s mysterious and mesmerizing brother Pale and Anna, who was Robbie’s roommate and dance partner — spend the play in a dance of denial. But it’s clear these sad, tortured souls desperately need each other for another shot at life.

Problem is, that fact is clear to the audience a lot quicker than the 2½ hours it takes the leading characters to reach the same conclusion in the downtown loft apartment. The padding threatens to take a dynamic and defensive tango and turn it into a hip, eccentric romantic comedy of opposites attracting.

But Wilson is such an adept writer that he never quite loses our interest, even as the play goes off course. The playwright continually punches the script with sharp-eyed, wicked observations (mostly delivered by Anna and Robbie’s gay roommate Larry). And Wilson has written some amazing star-turn riffs (mostly for the anti-urban, blue-collar Pale) that in the right hands can be turned into magnificent theatrical arias.

But to make this fascinating, angry, funny and flawed play work for an audience requires two actors of incendiary power and presence.

The Huntington Theater Co. production, staged by Susan Fenichell, gets one with Michael T. Weiss’ dazzling and deft perf.

Weiss, best known as the star of TV’s “The Pretender,” makes Pale’s posturing, machismo and mood swings natural and not just actor-audition bravado. In the role famously originated by John Malkovich (and played in an Off Broadway revival two years ago by Edward Norton), Weiss gives Pale an innate sexiness, humor and sensitivity that make Anna’s odd attraction to him — and later compulsions — believable.

Weiss is compelling whenever he is onstage, and the stage seems a rather lonely place when he is not.

As Anna, Anne Torsiglieri lacks that fire within. The role itself is part of the problem. Anna begins the play wounded, confused and angry, but unlike Pale, who rages, cries, sings and recites poetry with a blaze of charisma, Anna is, well, pale by comparison; sparks don’t exactly fly between the two. She also has to portray that dreaded role, the “artist,” and must be convincing as a choreographer who felt she and Robbie were destined “to change the face of dance in this loft.”

As Larry, Nat DeWolf nicely adds color, contrast and commentary to the proceedings. DeWolf is expert at Wilson’s most delicious dialogue, tossing off the golden lines with the smooth assurance of someone who doesn’t have to show the strain.

As Anna’s boyfriend Burton, a wealthy screenwriter, Brian Hutchison manages to be sympathetic and appealing, but it is clear that this pleasant enough sell-out is no match for a more explosive, messy life force. (A short, clumsily staged fight between the two men is indicative of the romantic duel for Anna’s affections.) For all the quirky details Wilson gives the character, Burton exists merely to provide the play with a romantic triangle and fill it out to multi-act length, but the effort is forced on both counts.

Still, “Burn This” resonates in raw and instinctive ways that often defy logic and dramaturgy. The play’s final tender moments provide a sense of closure to a period of deep mourning for the characters — and for an era — and allow the flickering embers of life to ignite again.

Burn This

Boston U. Theater; 890 seats; $69 top

Production: A Huntington Theater Co. presentation of a play in two acts by Lanford Wilson. Directed by Susan Fenichell.

Creative: Set, James Noone; costumes, Candice Donnelly; lighting, Mary Louise Geiger; sound, Drew Levy; casting, James Calleri; production stage manager, Thomas M. Kauffman; stage manager, Jason Rossman. Opened Nov. 17, 2004; reviewed Nov. 20. Runs through Dec. 12. Running time: 2 HOURS, 25 MIN.

Cast: Anna - Anne Torsiglieri Burton - Brian Hutchison Larry - Nat DeWolf Pale - Michael T. Weiss

More Legit

  • The Jungle review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Jungle'

    With the rumbling of semis careening by and the sound of Middle Eastern music in the distance, “The Jungle” aims to vividly immerse audiences into the world of the real-life migrant and refugee camp of the same name. By telling the story of the Jungle’s creation in Calais, France, in 2015, and its eventual destruction [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • 'Network' Review: Bryan Cranston Stars on

    Broadway Review: 'Network' With Bryan Cranston

    The 1976 film “Network” won four Academy Awards, including best original screenplay for writer Paddy Chayefsky, for its blistering portrayal of an American society fueled by greed and bloated on corruption. A haggard Peter Finch took the best actor trophy for his harrowing performance as Howard Beale, a TV newsman who is so disgusted by [...]

  • Faye DunawayVanity Fair Oscar Party, Arrivals,

    Faye Dunaway to Play Katharine Hepburn on Broadway

    Faye Dunaway will return to Broadway to play another acting diva. The Oscar-winner is set to portray Katharine Hepburn in “Tea at Five,” a one-woman play that charts the movie legend’s career over the course of a winding monologue. Dunaway last appeared on Broadway in 1982’s “The Curse of the Aching Heart.” In the 1990s, [...]

  • Philip Bosco'The Savages' film after party,

    Tony Award Winner Philip Bosco Dies at 88

    Veteran character actor Philip Bosco, who won a Tony Award in 1989 for “Lend Me a Tenor” as an opera impresario and was nominated five other times, died Monday, according to his grandson, Luke Bosco. He was 88. Bosco received his first Tony nomination for “Rape of the Belt” in 1960. His other nominations were [...]

  • Hugh Jackman

    Hugh Jackman Says 'Greatest Showman' Success Made Him Revive Stage Show

    Hugh Jackman could have spent his hiatus between movies soaking up rays in Saint-Tropez. Instead of lounging poolside, the movie star will return to the stage for a grueling series of arena performances that will take him across Europe, Australia, and the U.S. The upcoming musical extravaganza, “The Man. The Music. The Show.,” kicks off [...]

  • Bob Mackie, Costume Designer and Cher'The

    Watch Cher's Surprise Performance at the Opening of Broadway's 'Cher' Musical

    Kanye West may have caused some unwanted drama at the opening of Broadway’s “The Cher Show” on Monday in New York, but thankfully his alleged bad behavior didn’t come close to spoiling the evening. Cher herself caused fantastic frenzy as she glided down the aisle of the jam-packed Neil Simon Theatre toward her seat. All [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content