In the first revival of Lanford Wilson's Burn This, now playing at the Hudson Theatre, you're greeted by some classic 80's music when you walk in the doors. On the night I attended, the first song I heard was Queen's "Radio Ga Ga." While this seems like a set up for the show's time (it was originally performed in 1987), the story feels more universal than that, albeit with more cigarettes and no cellphones. It's completed with a problematic relationship that might leave newer audiences feeling a little uncomfortable.
The show's purpose is to ask the audience how family and community changes after a cataclysmic event. When it opens, Anna (Keri Russell) and Larry (Brandon Uranowitz) are telling her boyfriend Burton (David Furr) about the funeral they had attended for their roommate and friend Robbie, who was also Anna's dance partner. Robbie was a gay dancer who died in a boating accident, but his family was oblivious to his sexuality and his talent, instead treating Anna like an Italian widow.
Their lives, especially Anna's, change when a man knocks on the door at five o'clock in the morning a month after the funeral, there to pick up Robbie's belongings. That man is none other than Pale (Adam Driver), Robbie's older brother. He struggles to cope with his grief, is loud, angry, can't focus on what Anna is saying to him, and somehow manages to begin a relationship with Anna, despite the fact that she has a boyfriend.
While the relationship between Anna and Pale is meant to symbolize Anna coming into her own and becoming more independent, it feels forced and unrealistic. The is especially noticeable in the climax of the second act, when she repeatedly tells him that he scares her and asks him to leave her apartment, only to take him back after he attends a performance of the dance she choreographed. While we never see Pale hurt Anna in any way, the relationship left an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach.
While Pale and Anna's relationship does not really play out as intended, the person who walks away with the show is Uranowitz. His performance as Larry is absolute joy to watch. It's a role that could be a caricature if over done, but Uranowitz perfectly walks the line between over the top and just right. At the end of the night, it is his performance that will stick with you, and it is Larry's encouragement of Anna and her choreography, despite her grief, that will answer the play's essential question of how lives change after a cataclysmic event.