Where's the Fire?

Only a quartet of actors who are both vividly flashy and deeply anchored in their emotions can carry conviction in a piece this tenuous. The cast of James Houghton's current revival, largely lacking both stage experience and in some cases stage presence, will probably be ready for it in about 20 years. Watching them skate over the surface of the play now is a peculiar experience, like watching a rep company's tech run-through of a piece that opens next January, while the actors' minds are busy with the one that opens next week. It's all what actors call "marking," with nobody living the role. Edward Norton is efficiently showy, Catherine Keener sobs effectively on cue, Ty Burrell sends out alternating waves of sexy and sad, and Dallas Roberts busily counts his way to the next gag line. To compare these people, undoubtedly hard-working and well-meaning, to the original cast's John Malkovich, Joan Allen, Jonathan Hogan, and Lou Liberatore—actors who had spent their professional lives, up to that point, working in permanent acting ensembles—would be cruel and unjust.

Keener and Norton in Burn This: loft horizons
photo: Susan Johann
Keener and Norton in Burn This: loft horizons


Burn This
By Lanford Wilson
Union Square Theatre
100 East 17th Street

Pat Collins, the current show's lighting designer, must share my feeling, since she puts the cast in dim light or silhouette as often as possible. I suppose, given Norton and Keener's fame in the outside world, they deserve praise for their willingness to do a play in which somebody says, "There are no good movies. . . . Movies are some banker's speculation about how American adolescents want to see themselves that week. Period." But indicating one's sympathy with an idea, like other forms of indicating, doesn't get you very far onstage. They may mean to convey the burning passion the play itself struggles to arouse, but the result is disappointingly cold.

« Previous Page