Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This” is best for those who don’t mind the old adage “Nice guys finish last.” Currently at the Mark Taper Forum, this play is about a lower-Manhattan marriage, a female dancer and the bad boy she will fall for. You can’t fault this smart, snappy production, but you might find the material a bit depressing if you are a genuine nice guy.
Lanford Wilson was a Lebanon, Missouri-born American playwright who died this year (24 March). He had received a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1980.
Wilson briefly attending San Diego State, living with his father, but began writing plays while at the University of Chicago.
You might be more familiar with his 1973 “The Hot l Baltimore” which was made into a one-season TV comedy in 1975. He’s also known for the 1979 “Talley’s Folly” and the 1978 “Fifth of July.”
“Burn This” is set in a Manhattan loft that was shared by Robbie (a gay male dancer who drowned just before the play begins), his roommate and dance partner Anna (Zabryna Guevara) and the gay guy with the quips, Larry (Brooks Ashmanskas) who works in commercial advertisement. Anna has returned from Robbie’s funeral where everyone thought she was his girlfriend “widow.” None of Robbie extended family had seen him dance or knew that he was gay.
Anna’s real boyfriend is a screenwriter, the well-to-do Burton (Ken Barnett). He loves her and would marry her, but she needs her space. One might guess in this post “Will & Grace” era (the play takes place in 1986-1987), that Anna was closer to Robbie than to Burton and that is essentially what makes the Manhattan marriage.
Into the group comes, the very drunk Pale (Adam Rothenberg). He is upset about Robbie’s death and despite his shocking assertions, sleeps with Anna. He is, more problematically, addicted to cocaine and married.
Rothenberg’s Pale is charming in a Denis Leary “Rescue Me” kind of way. He’s a funny, outrageous drunk, but you, if you are a normal woman with self-preservation instincts, wouldn’t sleep with him or want to attend any party he’s at.
Pale isn’t a mooching junkie–he’s a hard-working restaurant manager with a talent for saying shocking things. He also inspires Anna’s choreography and causes the break up of Anna with her better-husband-material longtime lover Burton. Pale’s a lovable loser in this world that postulates creativity needs chaos and a certain amount of heartbreak.
Take this as a comedy and not a parable of how life really works. Director Nicholas Martin certainly keeps us in the reality of the 1980s, nothing is over-the-top. The pacing is brisk and tight. You’ll laugh even if you’d run like hell away from any guy like Pale.
Still, you might wish you had friends this witty, funny and creative and lived in such a spacious loft in NYC or even Los Angeles, but if you’d really choose Pale (and we’re not talking about the one flying over Central Park), then you need a visit with Dr. Phil. Luckily, Dr. Phil is also in Los Angeles during the run of “Burn This.”
“Burn This,” which had its world premiere in CTG/Mark Taper Forum’s 1986-87 season, moved to Broadway in 1987.
“Burn This” continues until 1 May 2011 at the Mark Taper Forum, the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 1. $20-$65. Contact: (213) 628-2772 or www.CenterTheatreGroup.org. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.