As its title suggests, Lanford Wilson's "Burn This" is fiery stuff. Emotions sizzle, tempers flare and the language is strewn with enough profanity to spontaneously ignite. In the intimate confines of Fells Point Corner Theatre, this impassioned work, directed by Steve Goldklang, all but singes you.
"Burn This" is about the heat that's generated when opposites attract, and the chill that engulfs people who hide from the truth, or pretend they're something they're not.
The chief conflict concerns a dancer from a privileged background who is attracted -- like a moth to a flame -- to the unstable, crude older brother of her recently deceased dancing partner and roommate.
Like Anna, the dancer, we are intrigued and repulsed by the volatile brother, played with pulsating intensity by Tony Colavito. Unable to stop talking, or stop moving when he talks, he isn't just wired, he's charged. His nickname, "Pale," is the only thing laid back about him, and that turns out to stand for Very Special Old Pale, a cognac that seems to be his main source of nourishment.
Though Pale is a showier role, Anna is in many ways more difficult. Amy E. Wieczorek gives a subtle but convincing portrayal of this seemingly together woman, who is yearning and confused on the inside.
At the start of the play, Anna returns home from her roommate's funeral. She's outraged that his family never saw him dance and denied he was gay. But Anna has been denying her emotions as well. Her social life consists of a tepid relationship with a dull but proper screenwriter, played overly ineffectually by Rick Richardson. Unable to decide to marry him or move in with him, Anna surrounds herself instead with gay men, who offer companionship and fewer emotional risks. Tom Nolte, as her gay confidante Larry, grazes the bounds of overstatement without giving way to excess.
A true friend to Anna, Larry is the first to realize that she and Pale have something in common. Pale seems violent and out of control, but like Anna, he is hiding from his true nature. There's vulnerability under Pale's bravado, and, wisely, Mr. Colavito lets us see it.
Watching Anna and Pale together, we understand why opposites attract. It isn't because they are halves of one whole. It's because each brings out something suppressed in the other, making them two fulfilled human beings. This isn't easy to convey, but Fells Point Corner's "Burn This" gives off light as well as heat.
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m.; matinees Nov. 11 and 25 at 2 p.m. Through Nov. 25.
Where: Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.