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Burn This review at Hudson Theatre, New York – ‘a sublime performance from Adam Driver’

Adam Driver in Burn This at Hudson Theatre, New York. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Adam Driver gives a sublimely physical performance in this Broadway revival of Lanford Wilson’s 1987 play. As a piece of writing Burn This is far better at character than it is at plot, but Driver makes it come alive, to the point that Michael Mayer’s bright production dims when he’s not on stage.

Driver plays Pale, the coarse, working-class brother of Robbie, a dancer who died in an accident. Robbie was roommates with Larry (Brandon Uranowitz) and Anna (Keri Russell), a former dancer who is trying to find her own voice through choreography. Pale comes to collect Robbie’s things and proceeds to turn everything topsy-turvy in Anna’s well-ordered life.

In Driver’s hands, Pale is a maelstrom of a man, capable of erupting into violence or desire in an instant. Driver avoids lapsing into class stereotypes as he constructs and deconstructs the character’s masculinity. After Pale shames Larry over his poor tea preparation skills, Driver even manages to turn the act of tea-making into something unexpectedly loving.

Everything he does, be it trying to take off his coat while drunk or getting caught in the sleeve of a kimono, goes towards the shaping of his character. Driver’s Pale can disarm with a grin, giving the audience a peek deep into his heart.

Anna doesn’t get equal space to grow as a character. It’s an underwritten role in comparison and Russell gives a restrained and overly subtle performance. Alongside them, Uranowitz manages to humanise the humorous Larry.

Clint Ramos’ costumes place us squarely within an arty 1980s circle. But while the production’s use of 1980s music attempts to stir up nostalgia for the decade, the gender imbalance (and the way the play sidelines its gay characters) reminds us that we’re better off today.

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Adam Driver’s nuanced and humane performance elevates a production of Lanford Wilson's flimsy 1980s play