Shock-tactic playwright Thomas Bradshaw graduates to the New Group.
Mon Nov 14 2011
Photograph: Monique Carboni
Burning at New Group @ Theatre Row
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
When intermission lights come up at Thomas Bradshaw's Burning, you may feel a twinge of disappointment. Sure, a couple of gay men have turned a 14-year-old orphan into their sex slave. And we just watched a naked (interracial!) husband and wife vigorously copulate. But what of the neo-Nazi siblings? She's wheelchair-bound, and he (a frustrated artist, like der Fhrer) sketches her as she poses topless. Surely Bradshaw wouldn't omit a lingering, graphic scene of fascist incest?
Not to worry, children: The master hasn't lost his touch. At the top of the second act, skinhead Michael gives sister Katrin a sponge bath and, seeing that washing her inner thighs arouses her, he kindly asks (in a thick Teutonic accent), "Do you need to experience a release?" Cue finger bang and nervous laughter in the audience. If you've seen any plays by Bradshaw—a deadpan taboo merchant whose id-driven characters operate free of psychological complexity—squirm-inducing sexual content is only to be expected. What is shocking this time is the high quality of the New Group production. Director Scott Elliott has marshaled a superb 14-member ensemble that earnestly carries out Bradshaw's multigenerational chronicle of anal penetration, racist self-loathing, white-supremacist bile and (yawn) infidelity.
Bleakly amusing, this sick comedy is an interlocking suite of narratives that plays like an X-rated soap opera, with interludes culminating in pornographic transactions. Motifs of adoption, exploitation and expiation course through the plot, which is overloaded but never dull. For years, the question hovering over Bradshaw's work has been: Okay, he's down with race-baiting, anilingus and infanticide, but can he write a resonant, meaningful play? Burning shows a writer who won't (and probably shouldn't) give up his offensive tactics, broadening his canvas and varying his palette. Color me pleasantly surprised.