Burn This Theatre Review - A Ruskin Group Theatre Production

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"Burn This" runs through April 25, 2008 @ Ruskin Group Theatre 3000 Airport Road Santa Monica, CA 90405

The Ruskin Group Theatre is currently enjoying an extended run of Lanford Wilson’s award winning play Burn This. Helmed by director John Ruskin, Burn This is the story of four passionate, strong-willed New Yorkers and the death of the person that connected all their lives. Anna (Alexis Boozer, understudy) is a dancer who grapples with aspirations of becoming a choreographer. She mourns the death of her roommate Robbie: he was her soulmate in the dance and the man with which she was deeply in love, even though she would never be able to have him.

Sharing in her grief is Larry (Chuck Bradley, understudy), her other roommate. With a razor-sharp wit and disarming sensitivity, he that both cajoles and commiserates the loss of their friend. Larry is Anna's protector and her jester, even in the presence of Burton (David McFarland, understudy), Anna’s brown belt, Sci-Fi writer beau. Burton’s attempts at sympathy are genuine, but he fails to see the fire that is lacking in his relationship with Anna.

Aaron Misakian and Marina Petroro in "Burn This" @ Ruskin Group Theatre

After much drinking, a little crying and unsuccessfully trying to shake off the image of live butterflies pinned to bedroom walls, Anna proclaims she is exhausted. She wants to shrug off the entire episode that was Robbie’s funeral: a farce of an event where his family sutomstically anointed her "the grieving widow" and where Robbie's closest family members seemed to have no idea of who he was or how he lived. How could they? None of them had ever seen Robbie dance.

Fast forward to a month later and there is a pounding at the front door. It’s Robbie’s brother Jimmy, whom everyone always calls Pale (Dominic Comperatore). He is promptly responding to the message Anna left at the bar a month ago to come and get Robbie’s things. He’s drunk, he’s loud, he’s rude and he looks just like Robbie, but older. He rambles nonstop in angry, revolving rants about the street parking, the message Anna left, his shoes, his job... Eventually his rants begin to come full circle, back to Robbie.

Somewhere in between his abrasive banter and desperate manic pacing, Anna sees a familiar sense of lose over Robbie. Pale seems to know who Robbie was, or at least  he acknowledged things about Robbie that their family never did during the funeral. Still grieving herself, they eventually turn to each other for comfort. The love affair proves to be creatively inspiration for Anna. But no one can quite tell if the relationship itself is emotionally too costly, or in fact emotionally bankrupt.

Dominic Comperatore and Marina Petroro in "Burn This" @ Ruskin Group Theatre

Now in the twilight of it’s run, this production of Burn This is very good. The particular show I attended featured understudies (with one exception). Nevertheless, the performances themselves were far from lacking. Alexis Boozer does a lovely job as Anna, a woman who eventuallyfinds her own inner strength using the most unexpected tools: alcohol, a guy that treats her badly, and grief over losing a friend. Chuck Bradley brilliantly escapes the pigeonhole of being “just” comic relief. Bradley imbues the role of Larry with a candor and warmth that is heartbreaking, vulnerable and hilarious at all the exact right moments. Dominic Comperatore as Pale explodes onto the stage, a whirlwind of offensive sullen rhetoric and anxiety. Comparetore is great in the role of Pale. His performance duly levels out as the character slowly finds stability in Anna, credible sojourning from initially boisterous to intimate and innocence. All three actors play their arcs beautifully. Well Done!

For me, there were only two problems with this production; one can be helped, one can’t. David McFarland’s Burton was the only weak link in this ensemble. He lacked the presence of his counterparts and unfortunately most of his performance was lost beneath the rumble of the theatre's air conditioning. He is doing the work; now, we just need to hear him.

The second problem, I will admit, is perhaps mostly mine. Burn This is a play about complicated people. It has shades of Virginia Woolfe in that characters are drawn to each other because they belong together, even though they seem to only hurt each other. This is a fairly complicated, mature theme. So at times it was hard to stay engaged as I watched the laments of a 30-something character being performed by a 20-something performer. They’re kids! The chemistry is there, the rhythm between actors is there, the scene work happening on stage is really good. But they’re kids!

I guess I will have to try harder to sustain my disbelief.

The Ruskin Group Theatre is a quaint space seating about forty. Nestled just over the Santa Monica city line, there was less intrusion by the planes of the Santa Monica Airport just across the street then there was from the theatre’s own air conditioning system. It’s a bit out of the way for those of us who call Los Angeles and Hollywood proper our stomping ground. Nevertheless, it was certainly worth the jaunt. This company is clearly doing very good work.

Burn This runs through May 9, 2008 @:

Ruskin Group Theatre
3000 Airport Road
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(Free secured Parking)

Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm
Sundays @ 2pm

Tickets: (310) 397-3244

www.ruskingrouptheatre.com

 

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