New York Magazine

Rupert, Hillary, Tootsie, and Beetlejuice

The spring season’s closing week.
Adam Driver and Keri Russell.

BURN THIS

HUDSON THEATRE

TURNS OUT THAT Kylo Ren is immensely compelling onstage. Michael Mayer’s revival of Lanford Wilson’s 1987 play Burn This may not be a flawless show, but it’s a pretty dang good one—mostly because, playing the human furnace at its center, Adam Driver is straight-up great.

Driver plays Pale, a scowling, prowling, profanity-spouting restaurant manager from New Jersey who always gives the impression that he’s just kicked down the door to the room he’s entered. He takes over spaces like some kind of massive alpha cat, stalking restlessly, marking the furniture and yowling. Early in Burn This, he explodes into the spare, artsy lower-Manhattan loft of the aspiring choreographer Anna (Keri Russell) and her roommate, Larry (the wonderfully wry Brandon Uranowitz), and once he’s there, he never really leaves.

Anna is mourning the death of her best friend, former third roommate, and muse, a brilliant young dancer named Robbie. The combustible Pale is Robbie’s brother and “could be his double.” Wilson’s play is about the overwhelming magnetism between these two wandering, grieving souls. In a sense, it’s an emotional three-way with a ghost, but it’s more than a straight love story. It’s interested in questions of genre and class, and—like Anna’s soon to be sorely disappointed screenwriter boyfriend, Burton (a sympathetic David Furr)—it wants to put something bigger, more emotionally courageous into the world than another “stupid urban microcosm.”

The play’s inherent risk, though, is that Pale will eclipse Anna by sheer force of personality, and despite Russell’s best efforts, this Burn This is indeed Driver’s show. Like the recent revival of True West in which Paul Dano receded in the face of Ethan Hawke’s roiling rambunctiousness, Mayer’s production puts its focus on the bigger character to the detriment of the more difficult one. Anna is a hard part. It requires an actor who can play aloof on the surface while letting us glimpse subcutaneous strata of struggle and passion. Russell holds her own, but we don’t really see her heart, and so the play loses some of its punch. But Driver—a genuine weirdo in the hulking, strangely graceful body of a former Marine—keeps it aloft with a thrilling blend of fearlessness and technical virtuosity. He revels in Pale’s huge, ugly displays of emotion and blazes through the character’s

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