Intimate 'Burn This' has the right tone for Theatre Outback

January 28, 1994|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,Contributing Writer

With Valentine's Day less than three weeks away, Howard Community College's infant Rep Stage Company will not perform your typical champagne, chocolates and violins romance tonight.

"Burn This," by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Lanford Wilson, will open at HCC's 150-seat Theatre Outback and run for three weekends.

The Outback, now in its second season, is the site for controversial and intimate works less appropriate for the 420-seat Smith Theatre. "Burn This" is full of coarse language and adult situations.

The play appears as a amalgam: Take the star-crossed lovers theme, mix it with "A Streetcar Named Desire" and ignite it in a bonfire of New York irony.

Set in Manhattan, "Burn This" focuses on a New York City dancer, Anna, who is grieving over the loss of her fellow dancer and roommate, Robbie. His brother, Pale, becomes her lover. She says he bears a resemblance to his brother.

Pale is a foul-talking restaurant manager from New Jersey and takes his name from V.S.O.P. ("Very Special Old Pale") cognac. He arrives at Anna's studio apartment to get his brother's belongings and disrupts her urban cocoon when she is most vulnerable. But both are reluctant lovers.

An added entanglement is Anna's friend Burton, a successful screenwriter who strives for her hand. Eventually, she must choose.

The fourth character is Larry, a gay advertising writer and Anna's surviving roommate.

The significance of the title is found in a reaction by Burton to Anna's angst that her dance work may be too personal.

"Good, it's supposed to be -- make it as personal as you can. Believe me, you can't imagine a feeling everyone hasn't had. Make it personal, tell the truth, and then write 'Burn This' on it," he says.

This will be the second work by Mr. Wilson that has been produced at the Theatre Outback. "Talley's Folly," which won the Pulitzer in 1980, was performed last season, the Outback's first year.

Producer Valerie Costantini said that Mr. Wilson's works have variables that make them appropriate for the Outback.

"I think that his plays are relevant and contemporary and they are pretty intimate," she said. "Theatre Outback is good for intimate works like that . . . people connecting with one another."

She said "Burn This" had other factors that made it suitable for the Outback: a small cast, single set, high intensity and topicality, since it deals with homosexuality.

Mrs. Costantini said she finds two themes emerge in the play.

"One is that people don't -- can't -- always pick who they fall in love with. It isn't always convenient," she said. "Second is a fear of commitment, the mind vs. heart. Many choose what the brain wants, but the heart may ultimately lead."

The director is Susan Kramer, who also directed "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune," "Deathtrap," "The Dining Room" and has run the Rising Stars Teen Actors Studio since its inception six years ago.

"I saw the piece about three to four years ago, and I really loved it. I wanted the opportunity," Ms. Kramer said. "I think Lanford Wilson is a very honest writer."

She says the biggest challenge in directing "Burn This" is making Anna's choice between Burton and Pale seem believable.

It is quite daunting since the choice between a foul-talking drunk and a rich movie writer could be a small quandary.

Tonight's audience will have an opportunity to meet the four actors in a reception after the performance.

Kimberly Schraf plays Anna. She performed at the Theatre Outback as Lee in last fall's production of "Marvin's Room."

John Lescault portrays Burton. He is a veteran of Arena Stage and Olney Theatre and was Tom in "The Glass Menagerie," which was directed by Bill Graham Jr.

Along with "The Glass Menagerie," Mr. Graham, who plays Pale, directed "Tartuffe" earlier this season and "The Foreigner." He teaches at HCC and is producing manager at Olney Theatre.

Joe Leatherman plays Larry. He has acted in Fells Point and Theatre Project in Baltimore.

The Rep Stage Company, the professional acting company in residence at Howard Community College, will perform Lanford Wilson's "Burn This" at 8 p.m. today, tomorrow, Feb. 4, 5, 11 and 12 at the Theatre Outback. Tickets are $10 with a $2 discount for students, seniors and groups of six or more. The play contains coarse language and adult situations. There will be a free reception to meet the cast after tonight's performance. For more information, call the HCC Box Office at 964-4900.

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