Burning Brings You Incest, Anal Sex, and ... Some Farts

The New Group stages Thomas Bradshaw's new provocation

“I love honesty in the theater,” says Chris, a 14-year-old aspiring thespian, in the first moments of Burning, a graphic and often funny new drama by Thomas Bradshaw. That comment serves as a playful warning shot from the dramatist, who goes on to compare the artistic and sexual evolutions of two New York artists—Chris (Evan Johnson), a wayward gay white teen arriving in New York to act in the mid-1980s, and Peter (Stephen Tyrone Williams), a black painter visiting today’s Berlin.

Bradshaw’s alternating eras and mirrored narratives are standard new-play conventions these days. But by staging physical acts that define the characters’ psychologies—anal sex with prostitutes, adults exploiting teens, siblings’ incestuous love—Burning gets far more explicit and confrontational than is customary on the genteel stages of our institutional nonprofit theaters.

Defining the limits is part of the theme: In later scenes, Chris and Peter contemplate Strindberg, de Sade, and Eastern philosophy, as they question whether primal, red-hot impulses—sexual, physical, ideological—should rightfully be suppressed, and then discover the consequences of acting on or ignoring their inner desires. (A family of neo-Nazis also gives violent physical expression to their festering inner compulsions.)

A contempo Frank Wedekind: Barrett Doss and Stephen Tyrone Williams
Monique Carboni
A contempo Frank Wedekind: Barrett Doss and Stephen Tyrone Williams

Details

Burning
By Thomas Bradshaw
Acorn Theatre, Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
212-239-6200, thenewgroup.org

Related Stories

More About

This production by the New Group marks the downtown playwright’s Off-Broadway premiere, and director Scott Elliott orchestrates the script’s ironic symmetries with a masterly hand. His uniformly solid cast underplays the outrageous thoughts and deeds with sly evenness, a tone contrasting nicely with the outsized acts of sex and violence.

As his detractors sometimes insist, Bradshaw does indulge in puerile antics (like a proudly gratuitous farting scene and a deliberately overextended brother-on-disabled-sister sexual encounter.) On the other hand, in this case these are elements in a play broadly measuring the consequences of unfettered expression. And in administering his brand of shock-therapy for overly complacent middle-class audiences, Bradshaw joins a long line of controversy-courting predecessors, from Frank Wedekind to Wallace Shawn. (There were a few huffy walkouts at the matinee I attended.)

If you can get past the play’s jestering and posturing, Burning has a more nuanced proposition at its core: What if we can be moral and immoral at the same time, simultaneously repulsive hypocrites and authentically caring creatures? Raising such questions, and inviting us to look past our censorious conditioning as spectators, might just be a rare bit of moral honesty in the theater after all.

 
My Voice Nation Help
1 comments
POV
POV

"...more nuanced proposition at it core...a rare bit of moral honesty!" YOU must be an extraterrestrial ala "ALIEN"! Perhaps IT—like you—might appreciate "Burning". The "I love honesty in the theater” line is the perfect definition of bad drama, infantile comedy, amateur acting and, at its core: sloppy, boring theater. Burning fits this to perfection.

 
New York Concert Tickets
Loading...