Burn This

Through Sunday, Aug. 19
Sonorous Road Theatre, Raleigh

“We don’t like to hear the word ‘vampire’ around here,” William S. Burroughs groused about the downtown New York art scene in 1986. “Trying to change our public image.”

The quote came to mind early in Sonorous Road’s repertory production of Burn This. Director Tony Lea’s intriguing take sets Lanford Wilson’s 1987 drama among a largely unsympathetic quartet of characters representative of the era’s first-generation loft-dwellers.

At the center is a sparkless power couple: Anna (newcomer Danielle Koppel) is a dancer whose glossy, bulletproof façade never slips as she fashionably recounts, in a world-weary way, the horrors of the next of kin at the funeral of her closest friend and dance partner, Robbie.

Then Anna’s warm-milk boyfriend, Burton (an earnest Jonathan King), a trust-fund sci-fi screenwriter just back from hiking a Canadian glacial ridge, kisses herwell, on the forehead, at least.

As artists, Anna and Burton are obsessed with authenticity, passion, and several other human traits they seem unable to convincingly feel or reproduce. Servicing this relationship built on aesthetics is a designated den mother, the aging gay adman Larry (a game David Ring), the only character thus far with a positive hemoglobin count.

But that may not last; he appears as little more than an emotional universal donor and a curmudgeonly supporting character in his own life.

Robbie’s older brother, Pale (Daniel P. Wilson), interrupts this scene of cultivated interpersonal distance like a brick through a loft apartment window. Pale’s tough-guy-from-Jersey front only briefly conceals an incoherent hot mess of homophobia, survivor’s guilt, and true grief, compounded by sexual opportunism and victimizing machismo that he knows are hollow.

Can any of these perplexing characters possibly construct a meaningful relationship? And how many are any closer, by the end, to tolerating direct sunlight? We’re still solving both modern-day riddles at the end of this challenging work.