Review “Burn This”

RECOMMENDED

Where: Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
When: through Nov. 18
Tickets: $27-$32
Phone: 773-795-8150

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

Anyone who saw Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This” in Chicago or on Broadway is less likely to remember Joan Allen’s marvelous 1989 Tony Award-winning performance as Anna than John Malkovich’s incendiary turn as Pale. He tore up the stage, chewed the scenery, and was truly scary. He also was spectacularly miscast as a man who is supposed to be the manager of a 2-star New Jersey restaurant.

Such is not the case with Ryan Kitley in Shattered Globe Theatre’s version of the play. Extremely well cast (except for the lack of a New Jersey accent), Kitley is terrific as the coked-up, motor-mouthed, vain, paranoid, abrasive, emotional wreck who turns up at Anna’s New York loft at 5 a.m. on a November morning in 1987 to collect the belongings (a month late) of Robbie, his younger brother and Anna’s roommate, who died with his boyfriend in a freak boating accident, cutting off what would have been a brilliant career in dance. Better yet, with the help of Linda Gillum’s subtle direction and his killer smile, Kitley slowly but surely peels away the layers to show us the complicated, vulnerable, grieving, even charming human being beneath all the defenses. This is essential: Since we can’t fathom why Anna doesn’t throw this jerk out the first time they meet — he and his brother are supposed to look alike, but they don’t at all here (we see a video of Robbie) — we have to understand why she falls for him in the end.

Unfortunately, there’s no chemistry between Kitley and Kate LoConti’s Anna (which also was a problem with the Allen-Malkovich pairing). Instead of an erotic charge each time he turns up uninvited, all she musters is irritation softened slightly by maternal inclinations. A dancer-choreographer determined to channel her grief over the loss of Robbie — and anger that his family never saw him dance — into work, she talks a lot about having no place in her life for anything else.

The others speechify too (though I think the script has been trimmed), which is one of the things that makes Wilson’s work seem dated and formulaic. Another is the by-now-stock characters: Larry, Anna‘s remaining gay roommate who works in advertising and has a witty quip for every occasion, and Burton, her rich writer boyfriend who can‘t quite rise to the occasion. To their credit, Jake Szczepaniak and Brad Woodard bring considerable depth and breadth to these roles. Still, Shattered Globe’s “Burn This” really catches fire only when Kitley’s Pale is on stage.