The Hudson Theatre’s new production of “Burn This” marks its first Broadway revival since it premiered on the Great White Way in 1987, but Adam Driver is no stranger to the work. He starred as Pale in a Juilliard production of the Lanford Wilson drama when he was still a student — and only now, more than a decade later, does he feel ready to step into the role for a second time.
“We did it for four days, which is really nothing at all — and I didn’t know anything about anything!” Driver told Variety on opening night on Monday. “I didn’t know how age plays a factor, and that kind of desperation of wanting to do something else — in your 20s, you’re optimistic about how anything can happen. There’s something about how the clock is ticking when you’re 36 [Pale’s age in the play], or 35 in my case; it starts to become more real.”
The timing was just one of many factors that drew him to the production. “I wanted to do a play again on Broadway, something that was character-driven, and the themes of the play were really beautiful to me,” he explained. “With this cast, with Michael [Mayer] directing, it all just seemed serendipitous.”
Driver’s involvement with Arts in the Armed Forces, the nonprofit he co-founded to bring live performances to a military audience, has helped him to stay in touch with his theatrical roots even as he’s starred in a spate of blockbusters and won critical acclaim for his work on screen. “We do probably four [plays] a year, so I still had that feeling of doing theater — very much on the go, not complicated sets, just reading. So I kind of got my fix throughout the years,” he said. “But it’s just totally different. You’re using your entire body to tell a story, as opposed to moments.”
Keri Russell, who stars alongside Driver, agreed. “It is definitely a different beast. I’m a scaredy-cat in front of people, so this is difficult for me — it’s a huge learning curve, and it’s still a battle to get out sometimes and be like, ‘Okay, it’s gonna be okay!’” she told Variety, laughing.
But the thrill of her Broadway debut has been worth the stage fright: “You have this incredible thing where you get the comfort of doing it over and over with the same people, so there’s this incredible trust with the other actors. And you have different ownership of this part versus doing a film or TV show, where you hone in on one moment over and over and over — with theater, you get this real run of something for two hours, and there’s a real freedom in that. So I get the beauty.”
Brandon Uranowitz may be a Broadway veteran by comparison, but the production marked an important first for him as well. “It’s the first time I’m playing a gay character on Broadway. That’s huge for me as a gay man who’s really only had the opportunity to play straight characters — which seems very backwards!” the two-time Tony nominee said. “But as soon as I read it, within the first page of Larry’s coming on stage, I was like, ‘Oh, I absolutely know who this guy is. I understand this man.’ Lanford’s language is a little bit heightened and stylized, so the way he articulates things is not necessarily how I would, but his motivations as a human and his protective armor of humor and wit that he uses as a defense — it’s exactly how I navigate the world.”
For him, both the characters and the play itself are “timeless.”
Driver, too, feels that “Burn This” has continued to resonate more than 30 years later. “I think the idea of loss was more on people’s minds in the ’80s. This was Lanford’s AIDS play, and people knew less. All of these beautiful men were just gone with no explanation,” he said. “But the theme of grief — not being able to articulate it and not having space to process it, that all of these things are just beautiful and then they’re gone — is still familiar.”