Monday, November 14, 2011

THEATER: Burning

Photos/Monique Carboni
Thomas Bradshaw has been reading too much of the Marquis de Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom, for his play, the at-best-pornographic Burning, has only one motto to live by, as digested by a fourteen-year-old drug addict, Chris (Evan Johnson): "The only sin is to stifle your natural impulses, because this deprives you of being as nature wants you to be. There is nothing un-natural in this world except self-deprivation." Though Bradshaw quotes from Strindburg, too, and calls for honesty in the theater, the result is a most unnaturally acted and unconvincing mishmash that fumbles at the unspoken meanings of "family." Worse, rather than stand demonstratively on their own, these disparate plots are insultingly linked at their lowest common denominator, the Older Chris (Hunter Foster). As for the feeble echoes of various funerals, recitations of Emily Dickinson, and hookups between the two timelines (1983 and 2011), they show not that Bradshaw has tried, but that he has given up, most likely while laughing his ass off in a post-ejaculative stupor, sitting bare-assed on a pile of your money. Even taking the show as a series of slices of life, which illustrate how even incestual Neo-Nazis can be human (they're concerned about the amount of fiber in their diet, just like everyone else), they'd be the sort of slices one gets at, say, Godfather's Pizza: fugghedabout it. 

Unlike previous work by Bradshaw, Burning fails to be distressingly funny (The Bereaved), provocatively offensive (Southern Promises), or surprisingly hopeful (Dawn): instead the aggressive, full-frontal nudity is now being used as a crutch, substituting physical revelations for any actual intimacy. It's theatrical prostitution, a series of impulses in search of a good hole to stick them in. Family, that big idea, is reduced to glosses like the following: Jack (Andrew Garman), a famous stage actor, and his boyfriend Simon (Danny Mastrogiorgio), a producer, take in the fourteen-year-old Chris. At first, they're merely looking for a hot, young servant, but they actually grow fond of him, and care for him even after he abandons them for Donald (Adam Trese), a treacherous playwright, and comes down with HIV. No matter how horrible the crime, it can be forgiven by true love . . . unless, of course, a businessman were to adopt a Cambodian sex slave, raise her to be an American pageant queen, and then marry her at the consensual age of twenty, a premise that Simon and his director, Noah (Andrew Polk), hypocritically reject as being pornographic. 

Such unrestrained passions spill over to Older Chris's life, in which he befriends a vulnerable Franklin (Vladimir Versailles), whose only sexual experience has involved being raped by a hermaphrodite, and whose mother, like Chris's, died of an overdose. Much as Chris found release through Donald, he now teaches Franklin to be free, or at least, he would if Bradshaw were even remotely interested in exploring rather than asserting this plotline. Instead, he fixates on Franklin's first cousin twice removed, Peter (Stephen Tyrone Williams), who is married to Chris's half-sister, Josephine (Larisa Polonsky), and Peter's collision course with the aforementioned incestuous Neo-Nazis, Michael (Drew Hildebrand) and Katrin (Reyna de Courcy). Or, at least, he would if he didn't also have to deal with introducing Peter to a Sudanese prostitute named Gretchen (Barrett Doss), whom he fantasizes is his recently dead first cousin -- Franklin's mother -- Lucy. This half-attentive attitude extends to Scott Elliotts's direction, which has the brusque, surface-level feel of a staged reading, and to the actors themselves, who act as if they're trying to put distance between themselves and their actions. The tenderness of "evil" people and the misplaced sincerity of the "just" are lost in this production, and if it appears as if Bradshaw is trying to make a statement about the artificial constructs of so-called "good" and "bad" things, it is simply because he wishes audiences to be too confused to label Burning as the awful shell of a play that it is.

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