The Signature Theatre Company's Off-Broadway revival of Lanford Wilson's Burn This re-ignites Nov. 20 at the Union Square Theatre after a brief shutdown that allowed cast newcomers Elisabeth Shue and Peter Sarsgaard to rehearse the lead roles.
The James Houghton-directed staging of the 1987 play earned solid reviews when Catherine Keener and Edward Norton opened the show Sept. 19, with Dallas Roberts and Ty Burrell (who both continue in the extended staging). Keener and Norton exited for other obligations, and the not-for-profit Signature decided to keep a good thing going. This extension is announced as a limited eight-week run.
Burn This shut down Nov. 9 for new rehearsals. Shue takes on the role of Anna and Sarsgaard plays the violent Pale, played since late summer by Edward Norton. Roberts and Burrell continue in roles they created this year, as salty friends of Anna.
* The revival opened Sept. 19 as part of Signature's season long exploration of the work of Lanford Wilson. Burn This originally played Broadway in 1987, with John Malkovich and Joan Allen in the lead roles.
Shue, as well as Keener and Norton, are best known for their work on film. Shue's film credits include "Tuck Everlasting" (she narrates the current release), "Deconstructing Harry," "Back to the Future Part II and III," "Soapdish," "Cocktail," "Adventures in Babysitting" and "Leaving Las Vegas," for which she won an Oscar nomination. Sarsgaard appeared in Drama Dept.'s Kingdom of Earth, and the films "Dead Man Walking," "The Man in the Iron Mask" and "Boys Don't Cry."
There was talk earlier in the season that Norton might return to the staging in 2003, if it continued or if his schedule would allow. Such a plan has not been announced.
Previews began Aug. 27 at the Union Square Theatre, rather than the Signature's West 42nd Street home, for a run of 10 weeks.
Signature artistic director James Houghton directs the intense relationship play which has Norton playing Pale, the volcanically emotional New York restauranteur, and Keener as Anna, the dancer he inflicts his attentions upon.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Wilson's work includes Talley's Folly, 5th of July and The Hot l Baltimore. Wilson spoke to Playbill On-Line about Burn This and his other works in the Sept. 16 Brief Encounter interview. Click here to view it.
In Burn This, "a young dancer's accidental death uproots the lives of four New Yorkers who, through their shared grief, confront personal passions and unexpected desire." The original staging starred John Malkovich (as Pale), Joan Allen (who won a Tony Award, as Anna), Jonathan Hogan (as Burton) and Lou Liberatore (as Larry).
The Signature season will also include Wilson's 5th of July, replacing Talley's Folly (directed by Jo Bonney) and the New York premieres of Book of Days (directed by Marshall Mason, currently running) and Rain Dance (directed by Guy Sanville). All but Burn This will play the Signature's home base, the Peter Norton Space, at 555 W. 42nd Street.
Burn This tickets are $65 (there will be a limited number of day-of-performance rush tickets available at the box office only for $30). The Union Square Theatre is at 100 E. 17th Street.
For tickets call the Union Square box office at (212) 505 0700 or (212) 307-4100. For information about Signature Theatre Company, visit signaturetheatre.org.
Book of Days and Rain Dance are two plays than began life at Michigan's small Purple Rose Theatre Company. Book was commissioned by the Purple Rose and then played the Repertory of St. Louis Repertory and Hartford Stage. There were hopes of bringing it in to New York, and no transfer ever occurred. The story concerns a mystery in the small town of Dublin, MO.
Rain Dance also played the Purple Rose, in Chelsea, MI, but didn't have much more of a life. The play centers on a young American scientist who leaves New York to work on a top-level project in Los Alamos in 1945. Director Guy Sanville is artistic director of the Purple Rose, which was founded by actor Jeff Daniels, a protégé of Mason and Wilson.
Wilson's work began being produced in New York in 1963, at places like Caffe Cino and La MaMa, where he and Sam Shepard (a Signature playwright of several seasons back) were contemporaries. Early plays included Rimers of Eldritch and Balm in Gilead, which Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company revived to great acclaim in the early '80s. Wilson's fortunes rose with the '70s, a time which saw the success of such works as Lemon Sky, The Hot l Baltimore and the first two part of his "Talley Trilogy," 5th of July and Talley's Folly. The latter won the Pulitzer Prize.
Many of these works were presented at Circle Repertory Company, a landmark Off-Broadway troupe Wilson co founded.
The last decade, however, has seen a slow falling off in Wilson's commercial and critical stock. The last play of his to reach Broadway was 1993's Redwood Curtain, which quickly closed to great financial loss and by some accounts helped speed the subsequent demise of Circle Rep. Many of Wilson's most recent efforts — including The Rain Dance, Book of Days and A Sense of Place, or Virgil Is Still the Frog Boy — haven't been seen in New York, debuting instead at such places as the Bay Street Theatre in Long Island and the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, MI.
— By Kenneth Jones
and Robert Simonson