There is so much to love about Center Theatre Group's production of Burn This, at the Mark Taper Forum. Of course, Lanford Wilson's hysterical, yet touching script gives the production a biting advantage, but director Nicholas Martin and the company uses this with a mastered ease in the development of a wholly polished and entertaining theatrical experience.
At the top, Anna (Zabryna Guevara) is comforted by long-time uncommitted lover Burton (Ken Barnett) and friend Larry (Brooks Ashmanskas) after the recent accidental death of Robbie, Anna and Larry's roommate. Robbie, a dear friend and equally work-obsessed dance partner to Anna, is vividly recalled as a brilliant dancer, strikingly handsome man and all-around captivating human being, and his absence forces the group to re-examine their lives. All of this is made exponentially complicated by the arrival of Pale (Adam Rothenberg), Robbie's wild, erratic and often-drunk brother.
Perhaps the greatest enjoyment of the evening lived in Martin's subtle and masterful direction. The piece flows effortlessly, resting in the subtleties of each moment and thriving on the pace of the whole. From this solid base came a seeming freedom and grace in the performances of the actors, who found a sense of uniqueness in the development of these well-known characters.
Undoubtedly, Adam Rothenberg and Brooks Ashmanskas take the show with their wild portrayals that find equal pleasure in both amusing and tearing at the hearts of the audience. Pale is arguably the most challenging role in the show, offering a balanced potential for winning an audience as losing them completely. His rough edge and spastic lack of control must be so delicately balanced with a warm vulnerability (bird with a broken wing syndrome) in order for an audience to both support the love that develops between him and Anna and to see the phantom elements of Robbie, the omnipresent heart of the show. Rothenberg not only meets this challenge with grace, but he takes the role beyond all expectations and imaginations.
Lagging behind the rest of the cast a bit, was Zabryna Guevara, who often seemed to be in a different production than the rest of the cast. Her performance lacked the subtleties of the rest of the show, often playing to the back of the house, rather than to the heart of a truly desparate character. While it is not enough to entirely hinder the show, it offers one of the few obstacles to the night.
In par with most Center Theatre Group shows, the production quality was top-notch. Ralph Funicello's set grabs the eye outside the frames of the doors that lead into the actual theatre space and upon entering, it doesn't disappoint. The "barren studio" is a little un-barren, but it seems to serve well as a commanding space that represents the overpowering role of work and its means for escaping or "burning" the realities of life.
Ultimately the production is a pleasure to watch and some of its once more controversial explorations of homosexuality remain not so outdated today. Furthermore, given the very recent death of Lanford Wilson, the show lives as a sort of inadvertent tribute to the playwright's earlier work and reminds the viewer why such abundant success grew from this and other powerful beginnings.
Burn This opened Sunday, April 3, 2011 and runs through Sunday, May 1, 2011 at:
Mark Taper Forum
601 West Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tuesday through Friday @ 8pm, Saturday @ 2pm and 8pm, Sundays @ 1pm & 6:30pm
For reservations call: 213.628.2772
Photos by: Craig Schwartz