Sonorous Road Repertory Inc.’s inaugural production of Burn This, a 1987 Broadway success from the pen of Lanford Wilson, who was part of the founding of Off-Off Broadway, handles gayness in an off-handed, everyday sort of way, rather than as a political and social confrontation. At that time, it was, no doubt, a relief to many and a disgruntlement to others. It was, in 2018 at Sonorous Road Repertory Company, a breath of fresh air.
An excellent cast, under the direction Tony Lea, bring to the audience the ironies and pitfalls of love, the wonderful freedom to laugh at some gay humor in mixed company, and a bit of a punch in the guts to remind us of the hovering possibility of death and how it remains with us after it has happened.
Danielle Koppel opens the show as Anna, one of the two remaining tenants of a Manhattan loft apartment, after the drowning death of the recent third renter, Robbie with his lover Dom. Koppel manages the obstacle course that her character runs with personal relationships, career choices, and the emptiness of Robbie’s family’s lives. Her attentiveness to her fellow actors, her warmth, and the portrayal of her character’s generosity result in a role of depth.
It was a great pleasure to see David Ring perform again. As the aging Larry, an ad-man who is gay, he is solid, and brings a tenderness and sensitivity to the part. Ring also exhibits a polished comedic style, which serves his character well.
Pale, or Jimmy, Robbie’s brother, is painted with a broad brush by Daniel P. Wilson. His domination of the stage for the entire second scene of the first act is breathtaking — truly running an emotional gamut from calm serenity to explosive abusiveness, and sliding into nostalgic sweetness only to suddenly morph into thuggishness. The audience is never sure of his stability, and yet is consumed by his complete control of the action.
Jonathan King plays the rich boy and professional writer, Burton, struggling to find a theme, and still be constrained by the dullness and emptiness of the material that he is forced to write. King seems right at home with the role, and his yearning to create something that will live seems real in him.
The set is well designed by Vivian Chiang and Jeffery A. Nugent, apparently making use of existing walls contained within the industrial building window behind them. Liz Grimes Droessler’s lights efficiently set the scenes. The costumes are believable, especially the dual-purpose Oriental robe, thanks to Michelle Murray Wells and Rachel McKay; and fight choreographer Hayden Tyler creates a couple of ugly punch-fests, which come across pretty realistically.
This is a fine meaty show, that serves both entertainment and thoughtfulness; and the performance more than lives up to the author’s ambitions.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 1st Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/burn-this/Event?oid=16115948; and July 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article215505405.html.
Sonorous Road Repertory Inc. presents BURN THIS at 8 p.m. Aug. 10 and 11; 3 p.m. Aug. 12; 8 p.m. Aug. 13, 17, and 18; and 3 p.m. Aug. 19 at Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio in The Royal Bakery Building, 3801 Hillsborough St., Suite 113, Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $20 ($16 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel). BOX OFFICE: 919-803-3798 or https://sonorousroadrep.org/tickets.
INFORMATION: 919-803-3798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHOW: https://sonorousroadrep.org/shows and https://www.facebook.com/events/233584650793025/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: https://www.sonorousroad.com/, https://www.facebook.com/sonorousroad/, and https://twitter.com/sonorousroad.
NOTE: This play is recommended for mature audiences, aged 16 and up.
Burn This (1987 Off-Broadway and 1987 Broadway drama): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1020 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/1742 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/burn-this-2298 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burn_This (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Lanford Wilson (Lebanon, MO-born playwright and screenwriter, 1937-2011): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/5031 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/lanford-wilson-7136 (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanford_Wilson (Wikipedia).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Amazon.com. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.