‘Burning’ is a Must-See Piece of Theater

11.14.2011

By Mark Peikert

Thomas Bradshaw's 'Burning' is like a John Waters movie played straight, a Douglas Sirk film on poppers

Elliott amps up the sexuality throughout, staging what are among the most realistic scenes of down-and-dirty sex ever seen outside of an Adam Rapp play. There are blowjobs, multiple scenes of anal sex (often accompanied by clinical dirty talk) and one shockingly realistic rim job that is not in the script provided to critics. It’s indicative of the innate falseness of Bradshaw’s play and Elliott’s handling of it that these scenes, as graphic and closely choreographed as they are, are ultimately utterly unbelievable. A few flicks of the tongue and Chris is ready to receive an erect dick sans K-Y. Only enterprising Berlin hooker Gretchen (Barrett Doss) understands the importance of lubrication.

Let me now state that to harp on any actor’s performance—the giant cast also includes Hunter Foster, Jeff Biehl, Andrew Polk, Larisa Polonsky, Adam Trese and Vladimir Versailles—would be cruel, considering the material and their often physically naked roles. Some performers are better than others, but they all get a free pass in this one.

The bigger question hanging over Burning—even bigger than how an artist in the era of Facebook would be able to prevent any pictures of himself from being taken to keep the color of his skin a secret—is whether Bradshaw and Elliott intend the show to be as funny as audiences find it. The overheated production borders on camp; there are moments of such sweaty, near-satiric sexuality—mostly between the paternally smiling Jack and Simon and the eager Chris—that the scenes feel like discards from a Tennessee Williams draft that he deemed too prurient.

Sex scenes aside, the musical cues throughout the show—from Barbra Streisand singing “Corner of the Sky” and “Putting It Together” to a repeated use of “Your Song” that results in maybe the funniest AIDS-related death scene ever on stage—seem to serve as punchlines.
Burning rings false every step of the way, but its ridiculousness is oddly contagious—even if “Your Song” will forever after conjure images of Kaposi’s sarcoma and the Marquis de Sade.

Burning
Through Dec. 17, Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. (betw. 9th & 10th Aves.), www.thenewgroup.org; $60.

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