nytheatre.com review by Garry Schrader
August 13, 2011
Those gentlemen of a certain age who line up outside The Living Theater, drawn to 2 Burn by the production's postcard shot of an ecstatic, shirtless young man, may find themselves dismayed, once inside, to be privy, in the play's opening moments, to a debate amongst the characters on the finer points of semiotics and poststructuralism, of Derrida and Foucault. They needn't worry: this entertaining play has passion, well, to burn.
Paul (Jody P. Person, who also co-directs, along with Jennifer Joyce) is an unhappy, half-closeted professor of English and Theory, struggling when we meet him with the twin torments of a recent ugly breakup and a prolonged writer’s block. Arriving for a student/teacher conference is Manny (Patrick Martin), who is only 19 and looks even younger. We can see why Paul finds Manny to be a breath of fresh air—he’s smart and handsome, a little cocky and a little lost, in need of guidance. Moreover, he’s passionately interested in theory and is an almost worshipful admirer of Paul’s writings. As we know will happen, Paul—or is it Manny? who’s pursuing whom?—makes a move, and they’re off. What could go wrong? I won’t be a spoiler.
Playwright Alex DeFazio calls his play “part gay noir and part meditation on memory and loss.” Thus we have a sober play of sentiment and ideas—if all of our social conventions, our thoughts, our emotions, even love, are unreal “constructs,” is everything permitted?—paired with an outrageous melodrama, in which desire and loneliness drive us with their own logic to the most excessive acts. This is admirably ambitious, but creates some dilemmas of tone for a director and cast, problems that aren’t entirely solved by this production, despite everyone’s evident talent and good intentions.
Noir is fun, after all, an almost operatic genre larger than life. Yet this production plays it all with a stricken face, tilting in tone toward tragedy even as the plot veers into melodrama. Though the creative team behind 2 Burn is absolutely right to avoid any hint of camp, I think it would have been interesting to see if a more heated, hyperbolic approach would have brought the play to a higher pitch, and made its resolution even more resonant than it currently is.
Of course, the peculiar strictures of producing for FringeNYC favor the sketch, the musical, the one-person show, and tend to handicap companies attempting full-bodied, ensemble work such as this one. 2 Burn is not helped by its venue, either, which casts a cold gray stony pall on the efforts to convey the fires of mad passion.
The fine cast of four is rounded out by Deena Jiles, playing Paul’s friend and colleague Maureen with a welcome blend of sanity and humor, and Michelle Wood who gives a nuanced performance of conflicted loyalty as Sarah, a crucial figure in Manny’s life. The actors, though a touch tentative on opening night, are committed and give it their all, and will no doubt grow in depth and connection as the run proceeds.
Despite all my quibbles, see 2 Burn. Go for the shirtless lad, stay for an ambitious and thoughtful genre-bending meditation on passion and despair.