‘Burn This’ review: Solid cast doesn’t quite ignite long-awaited revival

Adam Driver and Keri Russell in Lanford Wilson's "Burn This," directed by Michael Mayer.
Adam Driver and Keri Russell in Lanford Wilson’s "Burn This," directed by Michael Mayer. Photo Credit: Tartine Manufactory

‘Burn This’ runs through July 14 at the Hudson Theatre, 141 W. 44th St., burnthisplay.com

It took much longer than expected, and the leading man has been changed, but a Broadway revival of “Burn This,” the late Lanford Wilson’s bruising 1987 relationship drama, is finally playing Broadway’s Hudson Theatre. Whether it was worth the wait is another question.

Three years ago, it was announced that the Hudson Theatre (a special events space recently renovated into a Broadway venue) would officially reopen with a revival of “Burn This” directed by Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening,” “Head Over Heels”) and starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the reckless and raging Pale (a role originated by none other than John Malkovich).

A few months later, the revival got postponed due to supposed scheduling difficulties, and the Hudson Theatre reopened instead with a revival of Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” with Gyllenhaal.

Today, “Burn This” — still directed by Mayer — is up and running at the Hudson Theatre, but with Adam Driver (who is making his first Broadway appearance since he gained fame via HBO’s “Girls” and the “Star Wars” sequels) as Pale, alongside Golden Globe winner Keri Russell (“Felicity, “The Americans”).

Regardless of the revival’s merits, casting the photogenic Driver and Russell was a savvy move on the part of the producers that sought to attract the interest of millennial theatergoers who are unfamiliar with both the play and the playwright. Just take a look at the sexy promotional art depicting the two lying on a couch in an intimate embrace.

Photo Credit: Danielle Levitt

“Burn This,” which takes place in a sprawling converted loft in late 1980s New York, begins immediately following the tragic death of Robbie, an admired gay dancer, in a freak boating accident, which sends Anna (Russell), Robbie’s friend, roommate and dance partner, into a spiraling fit of anger, grief and helplessness.

After initially conversing with her roommate Larry (the terrific Brandon Uranowitz, “An American in Paris”), a gay advertising exec with a snappy sense of humor, and her boyfriend Burton (David Furr, “Noises Off”), a wealthy and well-meaning sci-fi screenwriter, her apartment is invaded by Robbie’s manic, drug-addled, overworked brother Pale (Driver), who has come to pick up Robbie’s belongings but ends up getting hooked on Anna.

The success of any production of “Burn This” rests primarily in the relationship between Anna and Pale, who give in to their sexual attraction despite their better judgment and impatience with each other, while Larry provides comic relief and smart commentary and Burton essentially gets discarded.

Russell captures Anna’s struggle as she transitions from injured bird to someone who possesses both inner courage and vulnerability. Driver’s combative performance (in which he is frequently roaring in frustration and breaks down crying) is not so different from his impulsive angry man persona on “Girls,” but it nevertheless suits Pale.

However, Russell and Driver lack the nuanced interplay and explosive electricity necessary to make the drama (which is rather thin and has lost shock value over the years) come alive. Despite frequent laughs from Uranowitz, the production becomes increasingly static and empty over the course of two and a half hours of long-winded scenes.