Burn This opened in Los Angeles, California, on January 22,1987. Wilson's play is a contemporary romantic drama, but it is not a happy romance, and even the resolution cannot be described as entirely happy. The two romantic leads, Anna and Pale, do not find love easy, and it is not easy for the audience to witness. Early reviews of the play were mixed. Although reviewers commended Joan Allen and John Malkovich' s performances, some critics questioned the credibility of an attraction between Anna and Pale. Nevertheless, the play has been generally well-received because the characters are interesting, particularly Larry, Anna's homosexual roommate, who is funny and endearing. In a 1986 interview with David Savron, Wilson explained that Burn This is a love story different from any other love story because the characters do not say, “I love you"; they say, "I don't want this." This conflict, argued Wilson, makes the love story contemporary. Wilson spent time studying modern dance so that he could incorporate the atmosphere and style into his character of Anna. Burn This is Wilson's thirty-eighth play, and he was willing to wait for nearly a year to put it on stage because he wanted John Malkovich to play Pale. He has stated that with this play he wanted to recapture the convoluted plotting of his earliest plays. Wilson relies upon dialogue to reveal the plot, and thus, the audience must pay close attention in order to follow the action. Burn This was not as commercially or critically successful as were Wilson's Talley's Folly or Hot Baltimore, but it has been widely discussed as a depiction of a contemporary love story.
Act I, scene 1
Burn This opens just after the death and funeral of Robbie, Anna and Larry's roommate. The action takes place in the roommates' loft, and as the play begins Anna is huddled on the sofa smoking, a drink in her hand. Burton arrives at the loft and is admitted. In the conversation that follows, the audience learns that Robbie and his partner, both of whom were gay, were killed recently in a boating accident. Anna was unable to reach Burton, who was out of town, and he has come to the apartment upon returning to New York and hearing the news. When Larry enters with groceries, the audience learns even more about the events of the past few days. The audience also learns about the nature of Anna and Burton's relationship. Although he is supposed to be her boyfriend, he could not be reached by phone when she needed him, and his initial interaction with Anna seems distant. Both Larry and Anna take turns describing Robbie's funeral and his family's reaction to his death. The audience learns that Robbie and Anna worked closely together and that she had recently changed careers from dancer to choreographer. Robbie was an integral part of Anna's new career, and his dancing was also a part of her choreography work. Thus, she has not only lost a friend and roommate, she has lost an artistic partner. Anna tells Burton that Robbie's family, none of whom had never seen him dance, did not acknowledge that he was gay. Instead, they assigned Anna the role of Robbie's girlfriend and treated her as his grieving widow. Both Larry and Anna are upset at this treatment by Robbie's family, and the dialogue serves an important purpose of establishing this family's background before the arrival of Pale, Robbie's older brother, who appears at the loft later in Act I. Anna, Larry, and Burton also talk about Burton's recent trip, the purpose of which was to help him rind sources and inspiration for his next screenplay. Burton makes a great deal of money for the sale of his scripts, but apparently feels no great loss at their sale and would just as soon not know how Hollywood uses his material.
Act I, scene 1
The scene opens with a pounding on the door; it is the middle of the night. Pale, enters the loft; he is loud and obnoxious. His speech makes little sense to Anna and is filled with obscenities. It is revealed that Pale is twelve years older...
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