Review: Burn This (Sterling Studio Theatre)

Burn This takes a look at personal identity and relationships playing at Toronto’s Sterling Studio Theatre

Wednesday night was my second experience with Sterling Studio Theatre. I enjoyed their production of Specter so much that I was really looking forward to seeing their preview performance of Lanford Wilson’s play Burn This. An interesting space, I wondered what they would do with it this time.

Burn This begins shortly after the funeral of Robby, a gay dancer who drowned in a boating accident with his boyfriend. Set in a Manhattan loft shared by Robby’s roommates Anna; his dance partner and choreographer, and Larry; who works in advertising, Burn This is about reconsidering identity and relationships. Pale, Robby’s older brother, forces everyone to make sense of their lives when he bursts on the scene.

 Having read the play several years ago, I was stunned when I walked into the studio space to see it so completely and beautifully transformed. Everything had such an industrial quality to it that one really felt as though you could be in a real Manhattan apartment. It was stark and cozy all at once.

Dozens of mason jar lanterns hung from the ceiling all over the room. And, in fact, it was these that provided most of the lighting for the production. Visually, this play didn’t leave any detail unattended. The world that director Sophie Ann Rooney successfully created was very alluring.

However, in terms of the action on stage, it was a different story. As someone who has a certain degree of familiarity with this play to begin with, I found this production to be much too heavy. I actually left the theatre feeling exhausted as an audience member.

When everything is so thick and intense without respite, moments that could (and should) have had true meaning and power go missing. Because of this, I felt to a certain degree that the story was lost. And cue in the constant and somber cello music, I felt like I was watching an extremely melodramatic and sentimental staged version of Twilight.

Regarding performances, I thought the play only really picked up speed midway through the second act. I had high hopes for this production, but unfortunately it failed to deliver with the same success as Specter did.

Ashleigh Rains in the role of Anna was undoubtedly emotionally connected and invested in both the plot and her character. However, her performance seemed very forced, her dialogue unnatural, and it was as though she was working so hard to remain in that sad state rather than working to just tell the story.

I understand that the character of Pale played by Kyle Labine is a coke-snorting, hyperactive restaurant manager. But I’m pretty sure different tactics exist to convey intense emotions as anger and frustration other than just flat-out yelling. I’m actually not certain how he was able to keep from passing out. Maybe they should have provided an extra-strength Advil along with the complimentary cookie on everyone’s seats.

Sean Connolly Affleck and Jason Stroud both had solid and believable performances. Jason Stroud in the role of gay best friend Larry was actually very enjoyable and funny. But I felt myself wanting to see more of him so that I could catch my breath from all the histrionics.

Toward the end of the play, things seemed to finally mesh and come together. Nonetheless, I’m not sure that was quite enough to make up for everything else. This won’t discourage me, however, from returning to Sterling Studio Theatre. They generally produce good work and perhaps this production just happened to be a miss for me. But running at over 2 and a half hours, all I can say is “brace yourselves.”

Details

  • Burn This is playing at the Sterling Studio Theatre (163 Sterling Road)
  • Performances run Tuesday through Sunday at 8pm, until April 19th.
  • Tickets are $20
  • Tickets can be purchased online.

Photo of Ashleigh Rains and Kyle Labine in Burn This by Angela Besharah of Inside light Studio.