Zabryna Guevara and Adam Rothenberg
in Burn This
(© Craig Schwartz)
Zabryna Guevara and Adam Rothenberg
in Burn This
(© Craig Schwartz)
Passion trumps practicality in the the recently decased Lanford Wilson's Burn This, which gets a crisp staging at Mark Taper Forum. Wilson's crackling dialogue is well served by an intense cast of four and packaged with a set so stellar that Center Theater Group may get six bids a night to lease the unit.

Wilson's 1987 play follows friends of Robbie, a talented dancer/choreographer whose untimely death has left them questioning their own destinies. Anna (Zabryna Guevara), Robbie's roommate and dance collaborator, fears that he held most of the aptitude in the couple. As an artist, she focuses on truth; something that puts her at odds with in-the-closet Robbie's family.

Things come to a head when Robbie's older brother, Pale (Adam Rothenberg), shows up unexpectedly and dumps all his pain at Anna's doorstep. Arriving one early, early morning, drunk and cocaine-addled, he is a volatile presence who disrupts Anna's life, filling it with a sexual tornado that shakes up her safe life choices -- including her relationship with boyfriend Burton (Ken Barnett), a successful writer.

Holding court as arbiter of this triangle is Larry (Brooks Ashmanskas), the third roommate of the loft, an acerbic wit with perfect hearing and a ringside seat to all the arguing and moaning. Indeed, Nicholas Martin's production brings out the humor in Wilson's writing -- not just the quips emanating from Larry, but the jokes the three lovers-in-agony use to enunciate the absurdity of their lives.

Guevara, an elegant presence, brings pathos to the confounded Anna, even when her character makes questionable choices. She moves gracefully, like a lifelong dancer would, and it always feels apparent that Anna choreographs every movement her body takes. Rothenberg always makes his character compelling and empathetic. In order for the play to work, the audience has to want Anna and Pale to find love, which wouldn't be possible if they don't hope for his redemption.

Ashmanskas is charming; his fey persona harks back to the 1980s when flamboyance was a gay man's battle cry. Barnett admirably handles the show's most difficult role as Burton, the milquetoast trust-fund baby who is not used to losing.

Ralph Funicello's realistic loft set is a wonder. Looming over the stage, this two-story, columned space with hardwood floors and large windows - and a realistic skyline - perfectly evokes the bustling world of 1980s Manhattan. Lighting designer Ben Stanton joins in the illusion by casting snowy overcast or sunny blue sky glare in through the grand skylight.