Monday, June 7, 2010

Burn This deftly challenges moral convention

Kristine David, Eric Baldwin
Courtesy photo

It’s almost always a joy to welcome a bright new theater group to Sacramento. The opening-night audience for Burn This expressed joyful approval of the fledgling effort by Resurrection Theatre Company and Fourth Stage this week at The Wilkerson Theatre. Its producers—Margaret Morneau, Eric Badwin and Aysha Krumm—made a discerning choice of Lanford Wilson’s searing play by way of introduction.

A contemporary and prolific American playwright, Wilson finds ways to get beneath the surfaces of his characters and make us see the depths that often lie beneath. Having a gay character in this 1986 play would have been a bit more of a shock than it is today. But the object was never to shock; it was to reveal. A young and insightful director, Lisa Thew, recognizes “that it’s often our own “out-of-character” decisions that define the most impactful moments of our lives.”

The plot is triggered by the drowning death of Robbie, a young gay dancer. His roommates—choreographer Anna (Kristine David) and ad-man Larry (Shawn B. O’Neal) bring the remains back to their Manhattan loft. The exquisite Anna has recently given up dancing for a career off-stage, and Larry’s affectionate loyalty goes far beyond his job. Tall, bald and thoroughly endearing, the openly gay Larry has become a family member. Anna is also consoled by her boyfriend, Burton (Joshua Glenn Robertson), who strives to immortalize Robbie in a play.

Upsetting this gathering of friendly mourners is the arrival of Robbie’s surviving brother, Jimmy, nick-named Pale (Eric Baldwin), seemingly bent on punishing Robbie’s friends for their suspected contribution to Robbie’s death—and bad habits. A gun-toting restaurant manager who somehow manages to bond with Anna, Pale seems the least likely to cross the barrier but something draw Anna to him.

The second act, which draws the threads together, seems to drag on a bit too long though it never gets boring.

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