The title of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This suggests it will be inflammatory and tempestuous. Knowing that its original New York production starred John Malkovich and Joan Allen might heighten your expectation that a local production by New Edgecliff Theatre (NET) would pin you to the wall. Featuring Nathan Neorr’s energetic performance as the crazed Pale, a man hopped up on grief, drugs and booze (the role Malkovich inhabited in 1987), there’s potential for a riveting production.
So it’s a disappointment that NET’s rendition doesn’t grab you and throw you up against the wall. Some of this is due to Wilson’s script, which tempts you with a tale of sexual struggle, but peters out in a sentimental clash between Pale and dancer/choreographer Anna (Gina Cerimele-Mechley) who is mourning the accidental death of Pale’s brother Robbie, a gay dancer who has been her roommate.
Her tepid, noncommittal relationship with Burton (John Wilmes), an affable and affluent screenwriter who drifts from script to script, can’t hold a candle to the temptation Pale provides.
But Wilson’s writing drifts and the cast, under Tim Waldrip’s direction, never quite makes the visceral connection to spark some actual fire. Neorr spews a lot of wild-eyed incoherence in the first act — causing more laughs than awe on opening night. Cerimele-Mechley’s performance feels accurate but without a depth of emotion, either in the loss of her friend or the fear of losing herself to his manic brother. Only Jason Burgess as Anna’s remaining roommate Larry, a flippant gay man who benefits from Wilson’s best writing, feels like a real, whole person.
NET is investing more in its productions; Melissa Bennett’s contemporary loft set is convincingly real, although the floor plan is odd and there’s too much furniture. The program indicates the show is two hours long, but it’s closer to three.
BURN THIS, presented by New Edgecliff Theatre, continues through Oct. 15. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.