Theater review by Adam Feldman
Pale (Adam Driver) makes his entrance crashing and burning. It’s the middle of the night, and he’s never met Anna (Keri Russell) or Larry (Brandon Uranowitz), the erstwhile roommates of his younger brother, who died in an accident the month before. But he barges into their apartment anyhow, without warning, drunk and coked up, wild with half-coherent rage and guilt and grief. (Anna calls him truculent; “like a truck,” explains Larry.) Pale is the kind of steamroller role that is irresistible to actors—a sexy beast whose brutish pride masks a deep well of pain—and Driver gives it everything he’s got. He’s terrific, and slightly terrifying. Even in the vastness of Anna and Larry’s open, spare, high-ceilinged loft, there seems barely enough space to contain him.
Pale is irresistible to Anna, too, and that’s where the Broadway revival of Lanford Wilson’s 1987 quasi-romance Burn This bumps up against its own limitations. The play features highly actable parts in Pale and in Larry, a campy wisecracker whose references range from Wagner to Lust in the Dust. (Uranowitz nails the laughs, which is what this sidekick is there for; it’s the 80s, but AIDS is never mentioned.) There is even some dimension to Anna’s screenwriter boyfriend, Burton (David Furr), who is handsome and monied and successful but doesn’t spark joy. Yet Anna is, for the most part, a noncharacter. A dancer and aspiring choreographer, she is guarded to the point of disappearing; after an angry first scene, she fades into a frustrating gray.
Burn This blurs passivity with passion. Pale is violent, rude and ill-tempered; he carries a gun, rails against “fruits,” calls Anna “little girl” and rambles about himself nonstop. (His idea of a compliment is to tell her that she has “almost no tits at all, you know?”) Perhaps there is a woman who would find this man attractive or even acceptable, but Wilson hasn’t written her; Anna exists to be fought over and passed around, and even when she asserts herself, she is not to be believed. “I don’t want this,” she says of Pale, but the men in the play, and the playwright, know better. Her mouth says no, but her eyes say yeah, okay, fine, I guess.
Hudson Theatre (Broadway). By Lanford Wilson. Directed by Michael Mayer. With Adam Driver, Keri Russell, Brandon Uranowitz, David Furr. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.