OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Guggenheim Award-winner Thomas Bradshaw is a button-pushing playwright whose career has been spent mostly pawing through the muck of racism, homophobia and other American social ills with the purpose of satirizing them.
In the past, I have found Bradshaw’s work generally to be crude stuff and his latest drama, “Burning,” is no exception.
Premiering on Monday at Theatre Row in a production by The New Group, “Burning” apparently intends to satirically roast phony-baloney artists and their tawdry world.
Whatever Bradshaw’s intentions may be, the result is a nasty two-act melodrama that features a mess of copulation simulated by the actors in various straight, gay, incestuous and underage couplings.
Studded with sex acts, Bradshaw’s elaborate narrative crisscrosses 20-odd years.
For lurid starters, the orphaned 14-year-old Chris (Evan Johnson) is an aspiring actor sexually annexed into the Manhattan ménage of a notable thespian-teacher (Andrew Garman) and a Broadway producer (Danny Mastrogiorgio). Two decades later, grown-up Chris (Hunter Foster), now a failed actor, gets involved with a teen (Vladimir Versailles) whose cousin Peter (Stephen Tyrone Williams) is a major artist.
Linking the stories is Peter’s pregnant wife (Larisa Polonsky), who turns out to be Chris’ long-lost half-sister.
An African-American, Peter specializes in paintings of racist vignettes. When Peter attends a gallery opening in Berlin, he falls passionately for a Sudanese prostitute (Barrett Doss) and runs afoul of a seething neo-Nazi skinhead (Drew Hildebrand) and his crippled teen sister (Reyna de Courcy).
Another neo-Nazi (Jeff Biehl), an AIDS-stricken playwright (Adam Trese) and a stage director (Andrew Polk) are other characters.
Bradshaw unremittingly and cruelly depicts the play’s half dozen artists as pretentious, self-involved and even somewhat delusional individuals of questionable talent and zero morals. The remaining people are none too pleasant either. “Burning” is a fetid slag heap of amoral characters whose lives are drearily rendered through indifferently-written dialogue, far-fetched plotting and graphic bouts of sex.
Under Scott Elliott’s smooth direction, some good actors try their best to give a semblance of life to the characters but the blatant quality of Bradshaw’s shoddy writing defeats them. The New Group’s design values are first-rate, as usual. It’s a pity to see such talent wasted upon a worthless farrago like “Burning.”
“Burning” continues through Dec. 17 at Theatre Row Theatres, 410 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.thenewgroup.org.