The Winthrop Drama Society production of Burn This is a great show--and the Winthrop House audience won't let you forget it. No words adequately describe the slapping of thighs and wobbling of bellies resonating through the makeshift theater in the Winthrop JCR. They laugh; they cry; they hoot; they grimace; they guffaw; they constitute a spectacle in themselves.
The play itself follows the tumultuous love-life of a hip New York choreographer, Anna. Her gay flatmate has died, leaving her to cope with grief and his rowdy, loudmouth older brother, Pale, Grief proves the easier to deal with. She loses her preppy boyfriend, he sense of identity, her other roommate's respect and her psychological well-being--all for a drunken, ignorant New Jersey (horror!) restauranteur. Love sure is funny.
The subject matter may sound trite, but the play itself astounds with constant wit and poignancy. The intensity of the action, with just four characters thrown together in a cramped Manhattan apartment, accentuates the emotional desert which these characters inhabit. The hysterically funny but caustic dialogue undercuts any romanticism in the relationships portrayed. Burn This propounds a pessimistic vision of human nature.
A talented and versatile cast sustain this complicated tone. Lacey Tucker, as the timid, avant-garde dancing queen, Anna, employs a passive acting style. She reacts to the other characters, rather than taking control of the stage. But that interpretation fits the feeble Anna perfectly.
By contrast, screen idol Matt Damon, playing the ever shit-faced Pale, has the stage presence of Jabba the Hut: no matter what's going on, we're looking at him. He slips effortlessly through bombastic tirades, inebriated Aikido, tearful out-pourings of the heart and sly seduction scenes. His whopping conviction transports the audience.
Michael Stone's rendition of Burton, Anna's smug script-writing boyfriend, is the least subtle acting in the play. He exaggerates the self-satisfied twit in Burton to such an extent that he fails to convince the audience when his character slips into melancholy self-analysis.
J.P. Anderson's Larry fulfills the role of a chorus, commenting lewdly on his friends' sexual endeavors. He creates a sensational send-up up of a limp-wristed flaming queen. The audience howls.
But funny as Anderson's mincing is, perhaps playing up the sexual stereotype detracts from the power of the production. Director David Travis allows easy laughs to distract the audience from the serious business of a character undergoing emotional trauma. The direction emphasizes the humorous aspects of a play which abounds in subtle and incisive characterization.
But nuance would be wasted on Winthrop. The house cronies want rip-roaring entertainment, and they get it. All other distractions pale by comparison to the audience, who aren't watching the play so much as watching their friends act. Winthrop Drama Society's Burn This is well-acted, amusing, and interesting. But you will need all your powers of concentration to keep your mind off the audience's play-without-a-play.