Burn This | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Burn This, Strawdog Theatre Company.

This is the third excellently acted and directed production I've seen of Lanford Wilson's play since it premiered here eight years ago. It's also the third production I've seen that's left me cold. Which means one of two things (possibly both): there's something missing from Wilson's play, or I've got to get a life.

The story of the impossible but inevitable attraction between Anna, an intensely driven, emotionally frustrated dancer, and Pale, the crackling, street-smart hooligan brother of her recently deceased gay roommate, simmers with beautifully written dialogue, great humor, and deeply passionate moments. Anna's priggish, soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Burton and her flamboyantly bitchy third roommate, Larry, leap off the page as vibrant, ferociously real creations. Under the expert direction of Richard Shavzin, whose productions seem to get ever more professional and intelligent, there's hardly a false note. Scott Cummins in the showcase role of Pale shines every moment he's onstage, suggesting a combustible combination of David Mamet's Teach in American Buffalo and John Travolta's Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever.

But the characters are so self-involved, their dialogue so self-obsessed, that the audience is kept at a distance. All the passion is between the characters; despite the honesty of the actors' portrayals, one feels less sympathy for them than Wilson probably intended. We don't much care whether Pale and Anna's relationship will work, whether Burton will find out about them, or whether the lonely Larry will find happiness. They do enough fussing and fretting about themselves to make our concern seem irrelevant.

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