‘Admirable’ cast of ‘Burn This’ reveals insights into relationship’s challenges

Danielle Koppel as Anna in Sonorous Road Repertory Company’s “Burn This.” Michelle Murray Wells

Passion can fuel intensity in life and love. Lanford Wilson’s 1987 Broadway play, “Burn This,” looks at how passion, or the lack of it, shapes personalities and relationships.

Sonorous Road Repertory Co. takes on the challenging script, an admirable cast and sensitive director overcoming most of the play’s pitfalls and revealing fresh insights.

In mid-1980s New York City, choreographer Anna suffers a setback when her apartment mate, dance partner and creative muse, Robbie, dies in an accident. Her boyfriend, Burton, an unfulfilled screenwriter, and Larry, a gay ad designer who is also an apartment mate, have been trying to console her.

Into her world bursts Pale, Robbie’s crude older brother, who comes to pick up Robbie’s things. Pale is high on drugs, has been in a bar fight and is spewing foul-mouthed complaints about the city’s problems. But he soon has an emotional breakdown over Robbie, whom he never got to know well and couldn’t accept his profession and orientation.

Despite Pale’s unrefined ways, Anna is attracted to him, and they’re soon in each other’s arms. Both know they could be headed for letdowns after their initial heat. Burton and Larry are helpless onlookers at the bonfire.

Wilson’s script has intriguing characters and engaging anecdotes, but at three hours, including intermission, it takes too much time with overly detailed background and repeating well-established character quirks. Still, under director Tony Lea’s astute guidance, the cast does its best to minimize the flaws.

The playwright does no favors for the actor playing Pale, whose talky, stream-of-consciousness monologs must have a dangerous edge along with veiled vulnerability. Dan Wilson manages the wildness well enough but comes into his own with moving layers of disappointment and hurt. Danielle Koppel gives Anna assured confidence while letting us see her struggle against her best instincts in falling for Pale.

Critics have labeled Burton a thankless role, but Jonathan King imbues it with charming naiveté that turns to a heartbreaking realization of the situation. Likewise, Larry has been dubbed a mere punchline machine but David Ring turns him into a wise curmudgeon with a heart.

The show is definitely for adult audiences, with many profanities and sexual references. But the universal desire for creative and romantic passion is represented with empathy and humor, especially in this company’s expert hands.

“Burn This”

Where: Sonorous Road Theatre, 3801 Hillsborough St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 10-11, 13, 16-18; 3 p.m. Aug. 12, 19
Tickets: $16-$20
Info: 919-803-3798 or sonorousroadrep.org

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