Burning

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    November 1, 2011

    (Review by Tulis McCall)

    As I was leaving the theatre, another reviewer was puzzling about the fact that, although he didn’t care for this production he never lost interest in the watching of it. Why was that? We couldn’t think of any reason.

    On the way home it hit me: If there are naked bodies having sex on one side of the stage, and clothed people on the other side of the stage involved in dialogue that is for the most part on the dull side and is not furthering the plot in any way – what would you watch? And which would hold your interest scene after interminable scene?

    Duh!

    Chris, a precocious 14 year old, has talked his way into the lives of Jack, an aging actor who teaches at an Arts High School, and his partner Simon. Chris’s mother has recently died of an overdose, he has nowhere to go – his father in London doesn’t want him, he wants to be an actor and most importantly he will do a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g to get in to the school. Jack and Simon take Chris into their home and bed.

    Michael (Drew Hildebrand) and his sister Katrin (Reyna de Courcy) are neo-Nazis living in East Berlin in a semi kinky sort of relationship. Michael is an aspiring artist who works in an art gallery, and Katrin is a paraplegic who is the odd voice of reason for their movement. Peter (Stephen Tyrone Williams) is a successful artist, who doesn’t like advertising the fact that he is black in his PR materials, living in NYC with his white British wife Josephine. They have been recently reunited with Peter’s second cousin, Franklin, whose mother Lucy has recently died from an overdose. Peter must help Franklin while preparing to go to East Germany for an art opening, where he will meet Michael.

    And here is the bit of information that is left out of the script and the program. These two plots, and I use the term loosely, happen roughly 20 years apart. We only figure this out when the older Chris shows up to support his half sister Josephine and her husband Peter at Lucy’s memorial service. And even then it takes a bit of head knocking for us to get the whole picture.

    Meanwhile back in the past, Aides has reared its ugly head and young Chris falls in love with an older man, Donald, a playwright, who is infected. Jack, Simon and Chris become estranged, and years later they make up.

    In the present, Peter finds true love in the arms of a black prostitute, Gretchen (Barrett Doss) because: A) He has never been with a black woman before and B) He can have anal sex with her. His show is a success but he has to deal with the skinheads at some point.

    If you are waiting for any of this to matter, or even make sense – let me relieve you of that expectation now. None of it does.

    In spite of some fine performances, this play is a soggy piece of business. The only element that is unusual is that all the sex, and there is so much of it that when the last couple in the lineup disrobes the audience starts to laugh, is not male-female white variety. It is gay or mixed race or black on black or incestuous. I must say the idea of that is refreshing. But a little of this element would have been more than enough.

    As it is, however, this is the only piece of the puzzle (with the exception of Peter’s eulogy for his cousin) that is worth your attention. And for executing these scenes with integrity and grace, these actors deserve battle pay.

    PS – to add insult to injury, of the three female characters one is crippled, one is a prostitute and one a wife betrayed. The two dead women are drug addicts.

    PPS – the word “burning” is never spoken.

    Go figure. Save your shekels and treat your sweetheart to a trip to the nearest saloon.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "Plodding banality of the dialogue and the silly dramatic contrivances."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "The story gets increasingly melodramatic and hackneyed."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Never boring and rarely predictable. ....The satire is more silly than savage."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    "A nasty two-act melodrama."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "The episodic plot, ..., is wide open to ridicule, and the characters are one step up from cartoons."
    Marily Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Post - Back Stage - Newsroom Jersey - Variety