If you come to “Burn This” expecting fireworks from Adam Driver and Keri Russell, be patient: The play that opened on Broadway Tuesday night takes a while to combust.
Fresh from “The Americans,” Russell plays Anna, a dancer-turned-choreographer who’s mourning the freak-accident death of Robbie, her creative partner, roommate and gay BFF. Just back from his funeral, she rails against his family, who had never seen him dance, while her screenwriter boyfriend, Burton, drones on about his latest project. Her other gay roomie, Larry, serves up one quip after another — Robbie’s ornate casket, he says, “looked like a giant Spode soup tureen.”
We laugh, but wonder: When will Lanford Wilson’s 1987 play finally ignite?
It does some 20 minutes on, when Driver bursts in ranting as Pale, Robbie’s older brother. Menacing, profane and sexist — at least until we see what lies underneath — the New Jersey restaurant manager first comes to collect Robbie’s belongings, only to return for more of Anna. Amid grief, guilt and desire for fresh starts, opposites attract. But love never comes easy in plays by Wilson, the late Pulitzer Prize winner whose work specializes in funny, sad, warts-and-all stories of idiosyncratic men and women. This show has all that, as well as contrivances and speeches more colorful than convincing.
Michael Mayer’s fine cast plays up the humor, and then some. By hinting at the loneliness underlying Larry’s one-liners, Brandon Uranowitz makes the character more than a pre-“Will & Grace” sidekick, while David Furr, dashing and confident, holds his own in the fairly thankless role of Burton.
And Russell? She’s just plain beautiful in a star turn filled with the rich, emotional honesty that made her irresistible in TV’s “Felicity.” Her toned legs and exquisite arches make her look like the dancer she plays.
Driver, a theater actor long before he starred in TV’s “Girls” and started his Kylo Ren tour in “Star Wars,” gives a performance as wonderfully weird as it is vanity-free. He’s game for anything, emerging at one point in little more than some cheesy black BVDs.
He and Russell have palpable chemistry, even as the prospect of becoming a couple terrifies Anna and Pale. “I don’t want this,” each one says.
That we want it for them is a sign that “Burn This” isn’t just blowing smoke.