Burn This - Theater Review

If it is true that when one life ends that another begins, than petit dark-haired dancer Anna (Kathleen Parker) is the benefactor of her dear friend Robbie's untimely demise.

We meet our aspiring choreographer Anna as she sits on the living room couch, smoking and agitated, covered in a patchwork throw. Reluctantly, she buzzes Burton (Jason Kaufman), her hunky, sensitive screenwriter boyfriend into the apartment. He has just heard the news three days late. She retells the horror of spending the past few days with Robbie's family: people who apparently had no idea who he was. She told how they treated her like the grieving girlfriend. She knew these people didn't have a clue who Robbie was since none of them ever saw him dance.

Enter Anna's second friend and roommate Larry (Chad Borden). He attended the funeral but dodged the bullet of the wake that Anna had to endure. He was equally horrified at the family's insipidness and at the tragic choice for Robbie's burial casket. Following Anna's lead, Larry diverts the conversation back to Burton, first by ceremoniously flirting with him using lines from the screenwriter's own film, then goading Burton to talk about his trip to Canada.

Chad Borden, Kathleen Parker & Jason Kaufman in "Burn This" at Theater Asylum

Burton, in his usual pseudo-self-effacing manner, launches into a description of the beauty of Alberta, stories of hiking without clothes (Larry enjoyed that part a lot), and most importantly the inspiration he found there. He was inspired to write something real, non sci-fi, something about the ocean and the whalers and the sailors that never come back. It's a lovely poetic escape for all until they realize that Anna's spent. Burton leaves her in Larry's good hands.

Alone at last, Anna and Larry can fully lament the loss of Robbie: their gay friend, dancing partner, and foolish non-swimmer who lost his life in a freak boating accident, alongside his lover, Dominique.

Flash forward a month. A pounding at the door. Anna open it at 5:30 in the morning and in tumbles Pale (Josh Stamberg), drunken, manic, boisterous older brother of Robbie. Somewhere in the midst of his ranting and raving about hating little bits of paper and hating messages and the damn guy in the green Miata leaning on his horn, trying to take his parking space, and spending half his fucking life parking, he conveys that he is there for Robbie's things.

Chad Borden, Jason Kaufman, Josh Stamberg (front) and Kathleen Parker in "Burn This"

Even ten years older, Pale looks like Robbie which throws Anna, because in a tiny way, it's like having Robbie back. She eventually abandons her effort to have Pale come back in a few hours and offers coffee while slowly extracting fragments of lucid thought from Pale's insane banter. That he knew Robbie was a dancer. That he knew Robbie was gay. That he himself could have been an artist, a composer. That Robbie wasn't the only one with talent. That he felt as if his heart would explode at the loss of his younger brother.

For one night, Anna and Pale consummate their grief over Robbie. But what was meant to be one night of comfort becomes complicated by the screenwriter boyfriend, Pale's guilt-ridden binge drinking and Anna's own inability to yield to the feelings that are arising in her.

Josh Stamberg and Kathleen Parker in "Burn This" at Theater Asylum

This play has great performances. Josh Stamberg portrays a lonely 30-something restaurateur who is both electrifying and pathetic from one moment to the next. Kathleen Parker's Anna starts out angry and pained then slowly disintegrates into her character's worst nightmare: a babbling, weeping idiot, inundated with raw, irrational impulses and emotions that she's never allowed herself to have before. Jason Kaufman is the playwright's finest ambassador, delivering screenwriter's monologues with excitement and whimsy befitting any great storyteller. Chad Borden's effeminate Larry plays a beautiful character arc spanning from the voice of comic relief to sober resentment. His performance moves from picking up every obvious gay quip, to silent watchful on-stage presence, to a character who is more than a little used up by all the change and emotional chaos that is going on around him. Fine performances all around. Truly well done.

The play is a fascinating exploration of how we work so hard as people, as professionals, killing ourselves to attain the things that we say we want, whereas we are never prepared to incorporate the intangibles that we don't know we want. Anna is faced with reconciling the path of order and dignified behavior with the relentless yearnings of her own heart and soul. It would seem that the universe is trying to teach this artist a lesson in being open.

Burn This plays at the Theater Asylum for one more weekend. Go see it.

Fri, Jun 22 – Sat, Jul 14
Thursday, Friday & Saturday 8 pm

Tickets: $20 Thurs, Fri, Sat

Running time: 150 minutes.
There will be an intermission.
Ample street parking

Elephant Asylum Theatre
6322 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90038
Ample Street Parking

The theatre has concessions.

For Reservations: (323) 960-4429

Photo Credit: Michael Hiller

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