If You Start a Fire [Be Prepare to Burn]
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 14, 2012
If You Start a Fire [Be Prepared to Burn] is a new play by Kevin Kautzman with a timely premise. Chris and Lucy are a young couple (not married, as far as I can tell; perhaps in a domestic partnership?). He dropped out of college because he got disgusted with the high cost of education; now he's working as a short-distance truck driver. She's working hard to get her MBA, eager to join the 1% and indulge in expensive hobbies like golf and skiing; to support herself she works as a waitress. Both are smart, educated, and tired of living from paycheck to paycheck. They are, as you can see, not unlike millions of people in this country, looking for security and self-actualization in the midst of what we're now calling the Great Recession.
The play really gets going when Chris reveals that he's lost his job. It doesn't take long before what looks like a get-rich-quick scheme comes to him: in a world of illusory connections where everything is for sale, why shouldn't Chris and Lucy create a sex website? Specifically, Chris's idea is to have Lucy sell herself—or the idea of herself—to virtual voyeur subscribers. No actual sex will be involved, of course; just photos and live-streamed videos of Lucy doing...whatever her customers ask her to do.
Lucy's a good capitalist through and through and, despite some initial recalcitrance, agrees this is a good idea. She even takes it one step further: if they can make a decent living with a single website, why not make a TERRIFIC living by selling franchises to others? And then, she goes one step beyond. What's good for the goose is good for the gander: shouldn't Chris have a sex website, too, geared to gay men?
The setup is interesting and valid, but unfortunately Kautzman doesn't stay focused on the many intriguing issues surrounding the execution of his protagonists' plan. Instead he spends most of the play's second act simply showing us the couple doing their sex work thing, which for me at least proved far less interesting than the places I was hoping he was going to go. I wanted to know how smart people like Chris and Lucy would (or wouldn't) hold on to their sense of self, their personal morality, and their privacy in the face of a business model and an Internet infrastructure that seem to defy their ability to do so. But Fire bogs down in a series of long scenes depicting Chris and Lucy's interactions with clients, one of whom—a very strange British guy whose handle is "Big Ben"—is apparently obsessed with vegetables.
Certain plot elements distanced and/or distracted me, too. When Chris originally hatches his plan, it felt uncomfortably like he has decided to convince Lucy to become a prostitute while he turns into her pimp; I wished that Kautzman had let the couple arrive at the idea collaboratively. And I was puzzled by the nature of their "erotic service" online, which apparently involves nothing more than a willing individual and a webcam: what's to franchise about that concept?
The play has been mounted by a new group, Mondays Dark Theatre Company, on a more-or-less detailed, realistic set by Jessica Moretti, under the direction of Kenny Howard. I attended opening night, and the pacing felt sluggish to me; this will undoubtedly improve with time. Lenny Platt plays the smart but slacker-ish Chris with energy; Spencer Rose's Lucy is difficult to like or empathize with, making this a couple that ultimately I found hard to root for.