×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway Review: Adam Driver, Keri Russell in ‘Burn This’

Two compelling star makes sparks in a passionate dance of denial and discovery.

With:
Adam Driver, Keri Russell, David Furr, Brandon Uranowitz.

2 hours 30 minutes

The ache for an absent artist permeates Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This,” now receiving a finely-tuned Broadway revival that features incendiary performances by Adam Driver and Keri Russell, playing two lost souls in a powerful and passionate dance of denial.

AIDS is never mentioned in this 1987 play, yet the epidemic and the profound grief that it caused is deeply embedded in its DNA. The pain of loss and the need for connection — even between unlikely lovers — is at the heart of this odd but appealing play, part shiva and part romcom.

Though the cause of death for the play’s brilliant dancer Robbie is a freak boating accident, the mourning for bright lives taken prematurely resonates strongly with the epidemic that gripped New York in the era the play was written. The effect Robbie’s death (and the death of his lover Dom) has on Anna (Russell), his roommate and dance partner, and on Robbie’s older, working-class brother Jimmy, nicknamed Pale (Driver) — who bears a striking resemblance to his sibling – cuts to their cores, immobilizing their actions and numbing their hearts. She’s lost her muse and he’s lost his way.

Also affected by the deaths are Anna and Robbie’s gay roomate, Larry (Brandon Uranowitz), a former dancer who now works unhappily as a graphic designer in an ad agency, and Anna’s lover, Burton (David Furr), a successful sci-fi screenwriter who yearns to write something more meaningful. Robbie’s death has shaken all of them.

Popular on Variety

At the play’s start, Anna has hit an emotional and creative wall, still stunned by the recent funeral, where it became clear that Robbie’s estranged family didn’t know — or want to know — the details of his personal or professional lives.

Enter Pale, ostensibly on a mission to retrieve Robbie’s few possessions. He arrives unexpectedly, angry and wired at the loft apartment Robbie, Anna and Larry shared (and designed with downtown ’80s dinginess and off-the-street decor by Derek McLane).

In this production, deftly staged by director Michael Mayer, Driver plays Pale as a man-child with mad mood swings, displaying brilliant flashes of danger, absurdity, anguish and insight. He is coarsely funny in his tirades about Manhattan parking, four-ply toilet paper and clanging heating pipes, yet he is also fastidious, down to the crease and cut of his pants and his ad-hoc tea cozy. He is seemingly homophobic and misogynistic, but also tenderhearted. He’s uber-alpha yet he sobs uncontrollably when emotions get the best of him, which is often.

Vital to the success of this fascinating, flawed (don’t peer too closely at the details) and overlong play is the casting, especially in the leads that require an audience to believe that such disparate people can find a safe haven in each other’s arms.

Driver, a mesmerizing presence in TV’s “Girls” and the latest “Star Wars” trilogy, lives up to expectations of the showcase role originally played by John Malkovich. Driver is riveting here, and audiences will identify with Anna’s dilemma of both wanting him to leave and needing him to stay.

In many ways, “Burn This” is Anna’s play, but any actress would find it hard to compete against the monologues-as-arias that Wilson gives Pale. There are no such showcase moments for Anna, though Russell can be a spellbinder, too, as she tells the story of being in a room filled with pinned butterflies. The metaphor suits Anna all too well.

Russell, whose stage credits are slim but who’s proven her chops onscreen in “The Americans,” creates a vivid, if less flashy, performance. Still, she’s a force in her own right as she summons a quiet strength beneath her fragility, a sense of groundedness under her shifting emotions and a shaky will to move on despite the hole in her heart.

In a role that could have easily veered into stereotype, Uranowitz presents the right light touch with the quips and the wisdom he shares. Furr also displays fine shadings as a writer whose artistic grasp may lie beyond his commercial reach.

But it’s the two stars who give the production of this imperfect play its brilliance, showing that the brightest fires burn from within.

Broadway Review: Adam Driver, Keri Russell in 'Burn This'

Hudson Theatre, 960 seats; $179 top. Opened April 16, 2019; reviewed April 12. Running time: TWO HOURS, 30 MIN.

Production: A David Binder, Ruth Hendel, Big Beach, Sharom Karmazin, Ohenrygs Productions, Ken Schur, Jayne Baron Sherman, Cynthia Stroum, Barbara Whitman, Richard Willis, Adam Zotovich, The Shubert Organization and Ambassador Theatre Group with executive producers Eric Schnall, Wendy Orshan and Jeffrey M. Wilson presentation of a play in two acts by Lanford Wilson.

Creative: Directed by Michael Mayer; sets, Derek McLane; costumes, Clint Ramos; lights, Natasha Katz; sound, David Van Tieghem; production stage manager, Lisa Iacucci.

Cast: Adam Driver, Keri Russell, David Furr, Brandon Uranowitz.

More Legit

  • The Thin Place review

    'The Thin Place': Theater Review

    I can’t resist: “The Thin Place” is a thin play. But before it drifts away into the eternal empyrean, this slender drama by Lucas Hnath (“A Doll’s House, Part 2,” “Hillary and Clinton”) tells a beguiling ghost story. Well, not exactly a ghost story, but the story of a beguiling haunting that may or may [...]

  • The Ocean at the End of

    'The Ocean at the End of the Lane': Theater Review

    Is Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” a story of childhood for adults or an adult view of the world for children? As director Katy Rudd’s astonishingly theatrical production of Joel Horwood’s adaptation resoundingly proves, the answer is: Both. Although wisely recommended for audiences above the age of twelve – the [...]

  • Warner Bros. Pictures trailer launch event

    Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jon M. Chu Tease 'In the Heights' Movie

    Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Jon M. Chu and star Anthony Ramos took the train to the top of the world to offer a sneak peek of “In the Heights,” Warner Bros.’ big-screen adaptation of Miranda’s (other) hit musical. “I’m thrilled we’re here, and I’m thrilled we’re uptown,” Miranda rhapsodized to a packed crowd at a cozy [...]

  • Lucas Hnath

    Listen: Lucas Hnath's Own Play Gives Him Nightmares

    Tony-nominated playwright Lucas Hnath (“A Doll’s House, Part 2”) has two shows in New York this season: a monologue based on the real-life experiences of his mother, and a ghost story. One of them gave him nightmares — but it wasn’t the ghost story. Listen to this week’s podcast below: He explained why on the [...]

  • Greater Clements review

    'Greater Clements': Theater Review

    The American Dream and all of its values have taken quite a beating lately. Director and screenwriter Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” Bruce Springsteen’s recent “Western Stars” album, even Ralph Lauren in the documentary “Very Ralph” show us how this country and all of its totems and merits have gone asunder. No dreams are more crushed, [...]

  • Harry Connick Jr Walk of Fame

    Harry Connick Jr. on Returning to Broadway

    Harry Connick Jr. is headed back to Broadway with a three-week limited engagement celebration of legendary songwriter Cole Porter. The actor and musician came up with the concept for the show and is also directing. “I love Broadway and if I had two careers one of them would be only Broadway just because I love [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content