Burn This | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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BURN THIS, Piven Theatre. I don't know the terms that Lanford Wilson and Steppenwolf Theatre settled on when the company commissioned this play from him in the mid-80s, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was paid by the page. Three hours long, this two-act play takes forever to tell its simple story: a dancer mourning the death of her gay roommate-collaborator falls in love with his rough-hewn straight brother. Like a kid dawdling on his way to school, Wilson lingers over every beat, and still his characters feel like mere mechanical devices. This is especially true of Larry, the good-hearted, essentially sexless remaining gay roommate, who's always there when the protagonist needs to talk out her problems.

The play fares a little better in the hands of this younger, greener company than it did in its 1987 Steppenwolf staging. The main advantage of Piven Theatre's production is the absence of John Malkovich, who butchered a role specifically written for him by overacting--and wearing a ridiculous long-haired wig to boot. F. David Roth, wearing his own hair, is considerably more restrained, playing Pale as one of those tightly wound wise-guy wannabes who can express their feelings only in chemically altered states. The choice works and makes his liaison with Anna, ably played by Justine Scarpa, understandable if not palatable.

--Jack Helbig

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