Burn This–Blazing Comedy on Broadway

“Burn This”–a Broadway revival of a Lanford Wilson play

Burn This,  a revival of a 1980’s play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson, well deserves the five Tony award nominations it has received this year. The exceptional performance by Adam Driver will leave you breathless.

The tragic death of a young, gay dancer named Robbie has left his two roommates and his older brother broken-hearted.  Anna (Keri Russell from “The Americans”) and Larry (Tony-nominated Brandon Uranowitz), are shattered by Robbie’s death and wander listlessly around their apartment recalling moments they shared with him.   Having just met Robbie’s family for the first time at the funeral, Anna wonders how she could have known so little about someone she thought she knew so well.  A major theme of Burn This, –that we are strangers to ourselves even more than to the those who think they know us best–sets fireworks throughout the extraordinary and sometimes very funny dialogue.

With the unleashed frenzy of a tornado,–an entrance of sound and fury– Robbie’s older brother, Pale (Adam Driver of “Girls” and the last two Star Wars movies),  opens the door to  Anna and Larry’s apartment in New York City. He has arrived there unannounced to collect his brother’s belongings. He is unhinged, in a drug-induced state of mind, burdened by a  grief that deranges.  In spite of having had little recent contact with Robbie over the years, Pale’s guilt and remorse are obvious.  He is hiding a bitter secret and is oblivious to how he is impacting Anna and Larry’s own mourning for Robbie.

Anna has an entitled, scriptwriter boyfriend, Burton (David Furr), who assumes he will marry her. But the anguish and pheromones are palpable and jolt Anna and Pale into love or lust or something more relentless and unexpected.

Failure to connect with one another, fear of intimacy, lack of empathy for another’s aspirations and uncertainty with one’s own feelings of desire and need:  Burn This sizzles with humor, darkness and ambiguity.

Such a crowd-pleaser! I hope Burn This will travel nationwide like “Book of Mormon”, “Hamilton”, and “Dear Evan Hansen”.  There is something for everyone in the audience to relate to!

“BlacKkKlansman”: Part of the American Fabric?

 

BlacKkKlansman movie

A  Spike Lee film about white supremacy, BlacKkKlansman is based on Ron Stallworth’s 2006 memoir, which eviscerates the hideous social structures of racism in the US.

In 1979 Stallworth (played by newcomer, John David Washington, son of Denzel Washington) becomes the first black detective in Colorado Springs’s police department. The police chief warns Stallworth:  “We’ve never had a black police officer. So you’ll be the Jackie Robinson of the Colorado Springs police department.”

Assigned to be an undercover cop at a black power student rally, Stallworth is to gather intelligence in what his boss implies may be a terrorist movement. Stokely Carmichael, Black Panther leader, will be giving a speech.

The rookie police officer is deeply affected as he watches young black college students take pride in what Carmichael is saying. He understands their rhetoric but his superiors are threatened by the Black Panther political movement. Stallworth suggests that the real terrorism stems from the KKK as well as perhaps the Black Panthers. Both are kindling for explosive violence.

With footage from the notorious 1915 film, “The Birth of a Nation”,– a homage to the Ku Klux Klan,– we are pulled into a clandestine operation where Ron’s colleague, Flip Zimmerman (an endearing Adam Driver), goes undercover as the white version of Ron at KKK meetings. Scenes of Flip’s own victimization by Klansman for suspecting he is a Jew triggers the empathy he has for Stallworth’s experience.

John David Washington, Adam Driver

Toward the end of the movie, Spike Lee uses original footage of the horrific scenes of the Unite the Right rally and Heather Heyer’s death in Charlottesville, Virginia, to show that little has changed from the racism of the 70s. BlacKkKlansman’s  terrifying message is loud and clear: What you see is a story taking place in 1979, but this is not only a period piece about those days. That was then but also here now too. Little has changed.

BlacKkKlansman is both a conversation-starter and conversation stopper. It will leave you deeply moved!

 

Note: BlacKkKlansman opened in theaters on the anniversary weekend of Heather Heyer’s death.

 

“What If”–She Doesn”t Understand?

What If the movie

What If  is a charming romantic comedy perfect for the holidays. Starring Daniel Radcliffe (“Harry Potter”) as Wallace and Zoe Kazan (“The Big Sick”) as Chantry, What If is a well-written story about two millennials who meet at a party and unexpectedly decide to start a friendship. Wallace is emotionally damaged from a failed romance with a doctor while both were in med school. He dropped out, and now is languishing in an unsatisfying and boring job, still moping over a year later. Chantry, a quirky intellectual artist who works for an animation studio, lives with her longtime boyfriend who is a high-power international negotiator.

Both Chantry and Wallace are somewhat awkward socially and emotionally wobbly, but blossom in each other’s company, discussing arcane topics that no one else seems interested in.

Canadian screenwriter and novelist Elan Mastai has written a sharp and clever comedy, balancing laughs with heart. Suggesting the tentative sweetness of changing the territory of the “friendzone” and the “love triangle”, What If asks the question: What does it mean to fall in love with your best friend?

The romantic comedy genre seems to be criticized a lot. There are plenty of cheesy films but What If is a gem. It’s well-written and a romantic comedy done right. Like most movies of this genre, you know how this movie progresses. However, What If still has some fresh moments, including the near universal (?) awkwardness for the woman (and maybe the man) in using the bathroom in the friend’s apartment. The scene is hilarious and endearing at the same time.

The dialogue stands out, alive with surprising turns and turbo-charged zingers as honest conversations poured out stemming from love, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings.

There is an undeniable charm in the ensemble cast’s performances (including Adam Driver). Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan bring soul and chemistry to the human connection they both are afraid of but want so desperately. My only negative comments are that neither the subplot with Chantry’s mother doesn’t contribute to the story’s momentum nor does the intrusive clips of animation. The overall structure of the story, however, with a nice “bookending” of first and last scenes is outstanding.

What If is worth watching as delightful, feel-good entertainment. If you’re looking for an intelligent–not cheesy– comedy to watch during the holidays (don’t wait until Valentine’s Day), rent What If.

Note: Available on Netflix