A Perfect Match

The hottest thing in Lanford Wilson's Burn This, now at the Acoma Center, are the performances. The crack cast assembled by Curious Productions is so at home on stage that it's a privilege to watch it work. Under the savvy direction of Kathryn Maes, the four actors create a private, intense world and then pull us in after them. And though the material here isn't as deep as Wilson would have us believe, this poignant comedy grows on you. In its spirited, expansive sense of the ridiculous, it even manages to say something mildly meaningful.

As the story opens, dancer Anna is in deep mourning for her best friend and partner, Robbie. She has just returned from a mind-boggling funeral with his working-class family, which can't even acknowledge Robbie was a dancer, much less a homosexual. At the funeral, we learn, Anna found herself cast in the role of Robbie's "girlfriend," lying about his life to please his grieving family. Anna's angry--first at Robbie, for dying in a boating accident, then with his family, for failing to love him enough.

Anna's sometime lover, Burton, tries to comfort her, but he isn't much help in the black-crepe department. Instead, Anna ends up bolstering his spirits, encouraging him to keep working on his screenplay--the really good one that will end up, unlike his more commercial projects, in some movie studio's circular file. Her other roommate, Larry, is the one Anna can really relate to, and Larry feels Robbie's loss as keenly as she does. Larry is an advertising executive who happens to be gay, and Wilson has given him many of the funniest lines in the play as well as the choicest assignment: to slice through the baloney everyone else dishes up.

The most interesting character, though, is antagonist Pale, Robbie's truculent brother. Pale is a workaholic maitre d' at a fancy restaurant, a working stiff with so much pent-up anger that he's constantly setting himself off like a firecracker. He bursts into Anna's apartment a few months after Robbie's death to harangue her on a wide variety of topics, jumping from one subject to another in frantic little explosions.

The energy it takes to discharge this role is astonishing, and Chip Walton's high-voltage performance is breathtaking. Walton makes this lost, lonely soul fascinating and fragile; he's a madman, maybe, but only because he has never loved or been loved. Anna changes that, and A. Lee Massaro radiates desire in the role, making us believe Anna will go forth and glow as a choreographer and that she will find her way home to Pale's heart.

The role of Burton is written as a foil to Pale's dense passions, and Richard Nelson gives the character a touch of the poet and a believable gentility. Thankfully, though, he resists the temptation to make Burton a simp. Jeremy Cole is wonderful as Larry, layering an edge of comic nastiness over the best-friend-and-counselor persona. Wilson avoids more obvious gay cliches, but there's a "vive la difference" feel to the role that's convincingly tender and pointedly hilarious.

The love story between Anna and Pale may seem far-fetched: the world of a dancer, after all, seems a bit effete for the likes of Pale. Yet we warm to the relationship because the actors themselves spark off each other's flinty surfaces. No stage in Denver has assembled a better cast this year--and few have realized a play so perfectly.

Curious Productions' auspicious debut just goes to show what the younger generation is capable of accomplishing in this town. Reviewing for Westword over the last four years, I've seen remarkable changes on the theater scene--so much talent, so much ambition, so much dedication. My hope as I leave the paper is that the best of these young men and women will continue to find a way to make a living--and keep on giving. Thanks for every fine performance.


Burn This, through September 13 at the Acoma Center, 1080 Acoma Street, 623-0524.

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