Burn This by Lanford Wilson, produced by 16th Street Actors Studio, orbits around a character we never meet. The show opens not long after the funeral of Robbie, a young, gay dancer, who died in an accident.
Over the course of the play, we watch Robbie’s roommates, Larry and Anna, take their first awkward steps dealing with grief, along with Anna’s lover, Burton, and Robbie’s brother, Pale.
Wilson’s writing is somewhat deceptive, as is Iain Sinclair’s direction of this affective, moving production. For long stretches, it almost feels interminable – lines purposefully spoken flat with little concern for pace.
Sure, there’s a fight scene later to mix things up, but that’s just smoke and mirrors and probably the least interesting scene in the play. What’s lovely about so much of the show is that it isn’t direct, like a thrown punch, but incidental.
As the audience take their spaced-out seats on either side of a long traverse set, Jessica Clarke playing Anna is sitting on the floor up against a wall. Clare Springett’s lighting design doesn’t highlight Anna, but instead falls across her.
Indeed, as much as the loss of Robbie is at the heart of the play, the characters and the performance of those characters don’t speak directly to it.
Jessica as Anna, Dushan Philips as Larry, Jacob Collins as Burton, and Mark Diaco as Pale, do wonderful work depicting all the heartache, confusion, frustration, yearning, and self-examination that comes as we navigate grief, folding it into our lives after losing someone we love.
Whether fun or reflective, Bridie Pamment provided excellent live piano throughout, particularly towards the end. The final minutes were beautifully rendered – characters coming together in an authentic moment of vulnerability, surrender, and ultimately peace.
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Saturday 30 January 2021
Season continues to 7 February 2021
Information and Bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com
Image: Jessica Clarke as Anna and Mark Diaco as Pale in Burn This – photo by Chris Beck
Review: David Collins