Perhaps one day, out of pity for theater writers, Lane Richins will direct a mediocre play so that we can stop wracking our brains (and Thesaurus.com) for new ways of saying “spectacular.” That day hasn’t yet arrived, though: Utah Theatre Artists Company’s latest production—Lanford Wilson’s Burn This—merits all the laudatory synonyms the aforementioned Web service can crank out.
The show commences imperceptibly with the entrance of Anna (Cassandra Stokes-Wylie), a Manhattan dancer/choreographer quietly mourning the recent death, by boating accident, of colleague and close friend Robbie, along with his gay partner. Stokes-Wylie brings an emotional permeability to her role that is a central element of the show.
The remaining men in Anna’s life—love interest Burton (Jeremy W. Chase) and surviving loftmate Larry (William Richardson)—form a network of emotional support disrupted a month later by the abrupt arrival of Pale (Jesse Peery), Robbie’s amped-up older brother. Pale’s harrowing cokerant comprises most of the second scene, giving Peery a scenery-chewing opportunity that is not to be missed.
Indeed, Peery’s commanding presence could easily overwhelm the whole play if the other three characters weren’t so well delineated. The defiantly campy Larry is the antidote to Pale’s tightly wound emotional fireworks; Richardson’s performance is nuanced and dead-on genuine. And—it has to be said—the fight scene rocks. It’s really an ensemble scene, but Chase and Peery bring such brutal physicality to the stage I was genuinely concerned for their safety.
Burn This is a breathtaking show by a remarkable theater company. If you’ve never attended a UTAC production, this is the one. Don’t wait.
Utah Theatre Artists Company: Burn This @ Sugar Space Studio for the Arts, 616 E. Wilmington Ave., through May 8, $10-$13