Thursday, November 10, 2011

Burning: Naked Folks Acting

Hunter Foster:  Musical Comedy Star Appears in Psycho-Sexual Play

It’s difficult to know what to make of Burning, a darkly comic psycho-sexual drama on view at Theatre Row's Acorn Theatre that is jam-packed with enough ideas about sexuality, identity, obsession, art, and politics to serve a half dozen projects, and enough nudity and flesh-on-flesh encounters to serve as a live version of a Google search on the word "porn."  

Regarding the latter, you pays your money and you takes your choice, sort of like being in the Times Square area in its former disreputable and sleazy days.  Ya got yer man/man sex, man/boy sex, hetero sex, brother/sister sex, oral sex, anal sex, sex with hermaphrodites, and prostitution (both the hustling kind and the legal kind), not to mention plenty of dorsal and full-frontal nudity. 

Amidst all of this is an actual play, made up of intersecting storylines about the lives of at least a dozen different characters, written by Thomas Bradshaw and directed by Scott Elliott, who has a penchant for bringing an edgy, in-your-face style to his work.  You may recall his star-studded, deliberately annoying version of The Threepenny Opera  that landed with a thud at Roundabout’s Studio 54 five years back. 

The New Group, for which Mr. Elliott serves as artistic director, has as its mission a “commitment to developing and producing powerful, contemporary theater.”  I’m not sure that Burning fills the bill; the “ick factor” does not necessary equate to “powerful,” and the play (stripped of its insistent nudity and sexual encounters) offers only the kinds of surprises that come from occasionally clever writing and unexpected turns.

Thematically, Bradshaw seems to have taken his cue from Tony Kushner, though with rather less artistic success.  Consider the questions he tries to juggle:  What does it mean to be a black artist?  To what extent is our world view shaped by our parents’ beliefs and values?  Where lies the line between self-control and self-indulgence?  What is the nature of exploitation? And where do forgiveness and redemption come into the picture?

Add to the mix references to the AIDS crisis, Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, racism, personal identify, and the business side of art and theater—all punctuated with periodic bits of show tunes and pop songs and sprinklings of quotes from that all-time great philosopher, the Marquis de Sade.   (For an alternate view by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, you’ll need to go see Venus in Fur five blocks north at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.)

The cast, which includes Sutton Foster’s big brother Hunter (known mostly as a performer in musical comedies) is certainly game; I can only imagine the amount of trust they had to have developed with each other during rehearsals.  But all in all, this is a real head-scratcher.  

By the way, in preparing this blog entry, I thought of an appropriate song to accompany it.  Go to

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1 comment:

  1. Yes, this play felt like it was written by a 15-year-old who had read too much Shepard and Kushner. The writing was amazingly amateur-ish, but the nudity and simulated sex was fun to watch. I don't know what the New Group thought they were doing...