Theater Review | Boston Theatre’s ‘Burning’ tackles difficult issues
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 01:10
When Kate Snodgrass first encountered Ginger Lazarus’ work “Burning” — in an earlier form, it was part of a series of one-act performances — she recognized that it was powerful. The complete production, currently showing at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre (BPT), is no less. Since her first impression, Snodgrass, the artistic director of BPT, and Lazarus have continued to develop “Burning” over the past few years, taking it through several drafts to create the fully realized piece. The result of their collaboration is a magnificent production that intertwines brilliant acting with modern-day issues and compelling themes.
“I caught you breathing,” lesbian ex-Army sergeant Cy Burns (Mal Malme) explains in the opening monologue of “Burning.” Imaginative and passionate, Cy is describing her first glimpse of Rose (Jessica Webb), a woman who, she professes, leaves her “burning.” Her potent words set up both the plot and tone of the rest of the work.
Loosely based on Edmond Rostand’s play “Cyrano de Bergerac” written at the close of the 19th century, on one level “Burning,” directed by Steven Bogart, tells the beautiful and devastating story of a love triangle. Though Cy loves Rose, she is compelled to help the charming but inarticulate corporal Cole Noyes (Ian Michaels) express his feelings for the woman they both adore.
The small cast is extraordinary — the crown jewel of this character-driven piece. Michaels is wonderfully endearing as a bumbling but earnest Noyes, and Webb brings enough vivacity to her role to convince us that she could captivate the hearts of whole companies. Zachary Clarence, a senior acting student at Boston University, adds wonderful humor in his supporting role as Sammy, a young friend of Cy and Rose.
Yet it is Malme — who originated the role of Cy in “Burning’s” initial one-act performance — who brings the play together. Through Malme’s careful portrayal, Cy is strong and also deeply compassionate. Most importantly, she walks a careful line that allows her to remain a sympathetic, but never pitiful character. Her wonderfully wry jokes are the icing on the cake.
The three strong leads feed off of one another, and the tensions they create onstage give “Burning” wonderful shape. The love story alone pushes the plot forward, leaving audience members hoping for a satisfactory ending.
However, “Burning” has more to say than “love hurts.” Set in 2008, “Burning” takes place under the harsh reign of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a contextual detail which brings a classic plot forcefully into the 21st century — taking no prisoners in the process. From the safe haven of her store in an isolated Western town located around an army base, Cy speaks out against the realities of sexual harassment and discrimination that remain a part of military life. However, her passionate defense of others quickly complicates her life, and it seems her safe haven may soon disintegrate before the audience’s very eyes.
Costume designer Rachel Padula Shufelt does a particularly apt and insightful job of subtly hinting at the underlying themes of the work. At first, Cy is dressed in civilian clothing; then as the work goes on, bits of camouflage creep into her apparel. As she fights for what she believes in, Cy must be willing to re-enter a combat zone.
Given the recent repeal of DOMA and increased discussion of equality in the military, “Burning” could not be more relevant. Part comedy, part drama, this new play packs a punch, leaving spectators completely exhilarated in their seats at the end of the two- hour run. “Burning” will show at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre until Oct. 20th. Student tickets are $10 and are available for purchase online at www.bu.edu/bpt/purchase-tickets or by calling (866) 811-4111.