Director Kenneth C. Graham knows how to get to the core of the characters in South of Broadway’s production of Burn This. The play has some damn sharp edges that almost draw the eye away from the dull spots. Playwright Lanford Wilson (Fifth of July, Talley’s Folly) filled this 1987 Tony Award-winner with a great deal of pathos, sexual tension, and base human condition.
The play begins with Anna (a soulful, wounded, and very sexy Kristen Kos) mourning the death of fellow dancer Robbie. She and her roommate Larry (Daniel Hall Kuhn, a serious firecracker in a great role) are joined by screenwriter Burton (Brendan Kelly, oozing entitlement) in an opening scene that is way too exposition heavy.
The play really takes off when Robbie’s brother, Pale (JC Conway), shows up to collect his things. The play follows the sexual spark between Anna and Pale as it becomes a wildfire, threatening to engulf them all. Kos and Conway are great together.
JC Conway has Pale down, bringing this uber-macho walking cliché to vivid life. It’s a great performance, and it goes well with the reserved façade of Kos’ Anna. The walls are up, but raging behind them is a party that only Pale may have the strength for. But they aren’t really right for each other. Kelly is strong as the boyfriend left on the outside, even if the writing under him isn’t. Kuhn is the show-stealer here. He absolutely pops, bringing true heart to this perpetual observer in these interesting people’s lives.
But at nearly two and a half hours, Burn This feels way too slow. There’s a sense of energy that is missing from the proceedings. You want the play to run for the finish line, but it walks, and sometimes just stops moving forward altogether. The script is to blame here, but some blame can rest on the direction. This show has to cook, and it simmers for far too long.
While the technical aspects of South of Broadway still leave a little to be desired (some of the lighting cues were abrupt switches instead of the slow rises that might have been intended), the set design is actually very wonderful. The NYC loft occupied by Anna and Larry is well created here by artistic director Mark Gorman. Comparisons can be made to that old Streetcar, but this is definitely for the modern crowd. And it’s definitely one of the sexiest things on the block. Sure, the night ends up as more of a dry hump, but she certain knows what she’s doing.